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21 Aug

The Strange and Unexpected: Alienation of Affection Claims in Personal Injury Law

Personal injury law is often seen as a straightforward discipline, dealing primarily with incidents such as traffic accidents, medical malpractice, or premises liability. However, delve a bit deeper, and you’ll discover a subterranean world of unusual, and frankly, peculiar legal issues. Among them is a tort that dates back to antiquity but still finds occasional relevance in the modern legal landscape – Alienation of Affection.

What is Alienation of Affection?

Alienation of Affection, often referred to as “heart balm” torts, is a legal claim available in a handful of states that permits a spouse to sue the third party who wrongfully caused the loss of affection in their marriage, leading to its eventual dissolution. This typically involves cases of adultery, but not exclusively so.

The premise of this law was to uphold the sanctity of marriage and penalize those who deliberately interfere with this bond. Originating from English common law, it came to the United States during colonial times, reflecting the societal norms of an era when women were seen as property, and marriage was a binding contract.

Modern Application and Criticism

Today, the majority of states in the U.S. have abolished Alienation of Affection laws, viewing them as archaic and inconsistent with contemporary societal norms. However, a few states such as North Carolina, Mississippi, Hawaii, New Mexico, South Dakota, and Utah still recognize these claims.

Critics argue that these laws place undue blame on the “other” person while ignoring the internal issues within the marriage. Moreover, the tort is often criticized for commodifying love and affection, elements inherently personal and impossible to quantify.

However, advocates for Alienation of Affection argue that the law provides a legal recourse for injured spouses to seek damages from third parties who maliciously interfere with their marriage.

Proving Alienation of Affection

Despite the peculiarity of the concept, the legal requirements to establish Alienation of Affection are rather typical. Plaintiffs must prove:

  1. A genuine and loving marital relationship existed.
  2. The love and affection in this relationship was alienated and destroyed.
  3. The defendant’s wrongful and malicious conduct contributed to or caused this loss of affection.

While the first two elements are relatively straightforward, the third requirement raises some interesting points. The behavior of the defendant must be proven to be wrongful and malicious, meaning they intentionally sought to undermine the marriage.

Notable Cases

One of the most famous Alienation of Affection cases is the 2010 North Carolina case of Cynthia Shackelford, who won a $9 million verdict against her husband’s alleged mistress. This significant judgment brought attention to the obscure tort and sparked conversations on the role of such laws in contemporary society.


The world of personal injury law is as diverse as it is complex, with areas like Alienation of Affection showcasing the truly unusual depths it can reach. These unique and obscure corners of the law provide fascinating insights into societal norms, changing values, and how our legal system adapts to these shifts.

While it may seem odd to some, for those who have found themselves in the midst of an Alienation of Affection claim, the reality of the situation is all too real. As always, it’s crucial to consult with a knowledgeable and experienced personal injury attorney to navigate these less-traveled legal paths.

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