Your Cheatin’ Heart Will Cost You: Antiquated Law Allows Scorned Spouses to Sue

Feb 10, 2010

By Delores Amorelli, staff writer of’s Newsroom Column ‘In Good Practice’ – February 10, 2010

For most people, the cost of cheating with another’s spouse is a few angry words or a sullied reputation. However, the price for cheating could be much higher for some. A little known law that has been maintained in several states allows scorned spouses to sue the individual responsible for the dissolution of their marriage.

According to, spouses of cheating mates in seven states, including South Dakota, Hawaii, Mississippi, New Mexico, Utah, North Carolina, and Illinois, are allowed to sue their partner’s lover for damages. [1] These lawsuits, termed ‘alienation of affection’ lawsuits, occur when a spouse decides to take legal action against another person for compromising the sanctity of the spouse’s marriage. Although alienation of affection was codified as early as the 19th century, most states in the US have abolished it. Recently though, there have been several high profile cases in which spouses have invoked the law, including a controversial case involving the former Mississippi congressman, Chip Pickering. [2]

As antiquated as these laws may be, they can still have profound effects on those who live in the aforementioned states. The potential result of these lawsuits could be verdicts awarding millions of dollars to bereaved spouses. In 2001, Christine Cooper, a betrayed wife from North Carolina, sued her husband’s lover and was awarded a $2,000,000 judgment. [3] As this case illustrates, the price for cheating can be more than just a bad reputation; it can cost you a fortune.

The rationale behind this law is the person who is cheating with someone else’s spouse is just as responsible as the married individual and should be held responsible for violating the legally binding agreement of marriage.

While these new lawsuits could be a method of deterrence for those with wandering eyes, they also pose a number of problems. For one, spouses could corroborate in order to dupe an unsuspecting victim and collect damages. [4] Also, it may be difficult to determine whether or not the involved party knew about the marital status of his or her partner. In addition, these lawsuits could be used simply to harass one’s spouse through the legal system. Doing so might help one spouse gain leverage over the other during divorce proceedings. As such, these lawsuits could cause more trouble than good.

Nevertheless, these lawsuits could be beneficial to those who have been wronged. Although a monetary reward cannot immediately heal the wounds caused by infidelity, it could help ease the mental suffering of a spouse who has disrespected and deceived. [4]

In spite of the potential problems these lawsuits may cause, they do remind us that everyone is responsible for his or her actions. Although there is no evidence that instances of adultery are lower in the states that allow alienation of affection lawsuits, the fact that they exist may encourage people to seriously consider the consequences before breaking their marriage vows.


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