Can I Sue the Other Woman for Destroying My Marriage?
Infidelity can destroy a marriage. When you find out your spouse cheated, you may want to hold the other woman legally accountable. But can you sue the other woman for ruining your marriage?
The answer depends on where you live. A handful of states allow “alienation of affection” lawsuits against marriage wreckers. Most states banned these suits, though. Even where allowed, courts disfavor them. Winning isn’t easy.
This article explains alienation of affection claims. It also covers related lawsuits like criminal conversation. Read on to learn if suing your spouse’s lover makes sense.
What is Alienation of Affection?
Alienation of affection is a tort claim. It allows you to sue someone for intentionally interfering with your marriage. Typically, plaintiffs sue the person their spouse had an affair with. But you can also sue anyone else responsible for ruining your marriage.
To win on an alienation of affection claim, you must prove:
- A loving marital relationship existed between you and your spouse.
- The love and affection was destroyed.
- The defendant intentionally caused the destruction of affection.
The defendant’s conduct must be malicious. It must go beyond simply having an affair. For example, actively persuading a spouse to get divorced could support the claim.
Alienation of affection suits often follow divorce. But you can sue while still married if someone wrecks your relationship.
These lawsuits originated in old English common law. Back then, women were their husband’s property. The tort allowed men to sue if someone “stole” their wife.
As women gained rights, they also got the ability to sue. By the mid 1900s, most states abolished alienation of affection suits. The idea that spouses can be stolen is antiquated.
What is Criminal Conversation?
Some states allow related claims called criminal conversation. This tort also lets cheated on spouses sue affair partners.
To prove criminal conversation, you must show:
- You and your spouse were legally married
- The defendant had sexual relations with your spouse
- The affair caused harm like emotional distress or loss of companionship
Criminal conversation requires proof your spouse had sex with the defendant. Alienation of affection does not. You only need to show the defendant’s actions harmed your marriage.
Can I Sue for Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress?
Cheated on spouses sometimes consider suing for intentional infliction of emotional distress. But courts bar these cases against homewreckers.
To win on an emotional distress claim, conduct must be truly outrageous. An affair, while immoral, usually doesn’t qualify.
Extreme cases allowing emotional distress suits against affair partners include:
- Taunting or harassing the spouse
- Spreading private sexual images
- Physical violence
Absent aggravating facts like these, emotional distress claims fail. Ruining a marriage alone isn’t outrageous enough for this tort.
What Damages Can I Recover?
In successful alienation of affection and criminal conversation suits, courts award compensatory damages. These cover actual losses like:
- Emotional anguish
- Loss of companionship
- Lost financial support
- Medical bills for anxiety/depression
Punitive damages are also possible. These fines punish defendants for outrageous misconduct. Awards can reach millions of dollars, but usually stay under $100,000.
Does Suing Make Sense?
Pursuing a homewrecker rarely makes sense. These suits are allowed in only six states. Even there, they are disfavored.
Courts worry alienation of affection and criminal conversation claims:
- Treat spouses like property
- Invade privacy
- Lead to excessive damages
Unless you have an especially strong case, consider saving your money and sanity. The time and stress of suing likely outweighs any recovery.
Focus instead on healing and your divorce case. You can’t force your spouse to love you again. The legal system also can’t effectively remedy betrayal.
When your marriage falls apart due to infidelity, suing the other woman or man involved is tempting. But these lawsuits are relics of a bygone era.
Outside of a handful of states, you can’t sue for alienation of affection or criminal conversation. Where allowed, courts disfavor these claims. They involve prying into private marital relations better left alone.
Rather than suing, channel your energy into self-care and divorce. With time, support, and an excellent lawyer, you can move forward after heartbreak. Though it doesn’t seem like it now, you will love again when ready.