Alienation of Affection
Alienation of affection lawsuits are among the most talked-about topics in family law, not only because they occasionally involve soap opera-like fact patterns but also because they’re rather ancient to modern society’s way of thinking.
But where do they stand in Massachusetts today, legally speaking?
Under the old common law system, a person whose spouse had an affair could file a civil lawsuit against the third party (often derogatorily referred to as “the home wrecker”), seeking financial damages as compensation for the havoc wreaked on the innocent spouse’s life and union. The lawsuit would allege alienation of affection — in other words, that the third party caused the cheating spouse to fall out of love with his or her marital partner.
Note that while sex was often involved, nothing in the lawsuit required a sexual relationship. The faithful spouse had only to prove that romantic love was lost, not that there was sexual infidelity. Meanwhile, a similar-yet-distinct lawsuit called criminal conversation (not actually a criminal charge, despite the name), pertained specifically to sexual affairs.
Courts took these claims very seriously. As you can imagine, so did the scorned plaintiffs (not to mention their thoroughly embarrassed defendants). Interestingly, though, the cheating spouse was never a part of the legal action. That seemed unfair to many people, and that’s just one of the reasons that alienation of affection claims fell out of favor over time.
Does Massachusetts Still Recognize Alienation of Affection Lawsuits?
No. Like most of the country, Massachusetts did allow alienation of affection lawsuits a long time ago, but they’re no longer in effect here. In fact, ours is one of many states to pass a statute specifically prohibiting them.
You might be interested to know, though, that a few states do still allow alienation of affection lawsuits. In fact, they remain quite popular in North Carolina, where the payouts can be very large. Hawaii, Illinois, Mississippi, New Mexico, South Dakota, and Utah all still recognize the claim too, though it’s more common in some states than others.
As for criminal conversation, only Illinois, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, and South Carolina still have that one on the books.
While many advocates for progressive family law condemn both kinds of lawsuits as antiquated, courts in those states have continually upheld them as constitutional and fair, even within the last few years. Alas, people in Massachusetts seeking to hold an interfering party responsible for the breakdown of a marriage have a very hard time doing so.
Isn’t it true that Adultery is still a grounds for divorce in Massachusetts?
Yes. In addition to “no-fault” divorce, anyone filing for a divorce can claim there was a “fault” such as adultery. The allegation of adultery might require the “home wrecker” to be brought into the divorce proceedings at some point and the details of the affair might be disclosed in open court. It is however, a different course of action than alienation of affection. The purpose of an adultery claim is really to allege that the cheating spouse squandered marital assets on his/her new lover and therefore deprived the spouse financial resources. It is not about proving that an affair took place for the sake of the court determining who was right and who was wrong or who broke up the marriage.
Facing Marital Breakdown? Talk with Our Boston Family Law Attorneys
The collapse of a marriage is an incredibly difficult thing for anyone to handle, and no two situations are alike. While it is true that Massachusetts does not permit the filing of an alienation of affection or criminal conversation lawsuit, we always encourage those who feel wronged to talk about their experience with our attorneys.
Ultimately, we want to guide you toward the fairest and most effective resolution possible. The right outcome will look different for everyone, but you can count on our family law attorneys to take the time to give you thoughtful and individualized guidance. We are committed to justice and to helping people heal from the turmoil of a broken marriage. Give us a call today to talk about what some of your options might be.