North Carolina is one of only a handful of states that recognize certain “heart balm” actions, which include alienation of affection and criminal conversation (and no, criminal conversation has nothing to do with talking to a criminal). These unique tort actions allow for a spouse to recover from a third party for their interference in the marital relationship.
However, North Carolina has recently passed and enacted House Bill 1110, “An Act to Clarify Procedures in Civil Actions for Alienation of Affections and Criminal Conversation”. This bill leaves the basic requirements to bring one of these heart balm actions the intact, but it modifies some of the procedures to bring one of these claims before the court.
There are three requirements to bring a claim of alienation of affection against someone. All three must be present. They are: 1) a marriage, containing genuine love and affection, existed between the plaintiff and the plaintiff’s spouse, 2) the defendant acted maliciously, and 3) the love and affection was destroyed by the defendant’s malicious acts.
A claim of criminal conversation has only two requirements. Both must be present. The requirements are 1) a valid marriage existed between the plaintiff and the plaintiff’s spouse, and 2) the defendant had sexual intercourse with the plaintiff’s spouse during the marriage.
Prior to the new bill, a plaintiff could bring a claim against a defendant, even if the action giving rise to the claim occurred after the married coupled separated. This meant if one spouse moved out of the marital residence, and then began dating; the new dating partner (the third party) opened themselves up to potential legal liability.
House Bill 1110 changed this aspect. Once the bill took effect on October 1, 2009, a claim of criminal conversation or alienation of affection cannot be brought against a third party after the spouses have physically separated (and one of the spouses has the intent for the physical separate to be permanent).
In addition, the new bill sets the statute of limitations for these heart balm actions at three years. Therefore, any claim of alienation of affection or criminal conversation must be brought before the court within three years of the incident giving rise to the claims.
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