Kevin Howard was married to his wife for 12 years when she discussed a possible separation with him. After the conversation, the couple started counseling. However, Howard felt that something wasn’t right, so he hired a private investigator. During the investigation, the private investigator discovered that Howard’s wife was having an affair.
“He was a colleague of hers from work,” said Howard, who is from North Carolina. “He ate dinner with us several times; we spent time together… I thought this was a friend.”
Howard, according to a report by CNN, blamed the other man for “alienation of affection,” and he was able to sue his ex-wife’s lover.
North Carolina has alienation of affection laws – at times called “homewrecker” laws – that allow a spouse to sue a person for “purposefully interfering with the marital relationship.” In most cases, that involves the spouse suing the individual their spouse had the affair with, defining that person’s role as “interfering.”
In August, a judge ruled in Howard’s favor, awarding him $750,000. However, Howard says his actions weren’t entirely about the money.
“I believe in the sanctity of marriage,” said Howard. “Other families should see what the consequences are to not only breaking the vow to whatever religion you subscribe to but also your legal responsibilities.”
Howard’s attorney, Cynthia Mills, says that alienation of affection cases are “very prevalent,” adding that she had five open currently.
In order to win such a case, the spouse who was cheated on has to demonstrate that the couple was happy prior to the affair, essentially showing that the lover is what came between them and caused the relationship to deteriorate.
Judgments in favor of the cheated-on spouse have, at times, been lucrative. Mills said that, in 2010, one of her clients was awarded $5.9 million.
Last year, one man was ordered to pay $8.8 million by a judge. The majority of that award was comprised of punitive damages – amounts meant to serve as a penalty to the defendant – though $2.2 million was in compensatory damages.
Alienation of affection laws have largely been repealed. However, Hawaii, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Dakota, and Utah all still have some on the books.