Wayne Hopper, Legal Assistant
King v. Huizar (In re Huizar), 609 BR 482
Only a handful of states still recognize alienation of affection and criminal conversation as actionable torts. North Carolina is one of those states. These claims have their roots in old English law, where a man could essentially sue for the “theft” of his wife. Modern Alienation of Affection/Criminal Conversation laws allow spouses of either gender to bring a suit.
While similar in spirit, these two torts differ in what they assert. In an alienation of affection claim, one spouse is seeking damages against a third party for wrongful acts that interfered with the marital relationship, thus depriving them of the love and affection of their spouse. They are sometimes colloquially referred to as “homewrecker” laws or “heartbalm” torts. On the other hand, criminal conversation refers specifically to adulterous, extramarital sexual acts between the Plaintiff’s spouse and a third party.
To prove alienation of affection, the plaintiff spouse must show that prior to the affair they had a genuine and loving marriage and that it was the wrongful or malicious acts of the third party that destroyed the marriage. It must also be shown that the alienation of affection caused by the third party caused damage (e.g., economic loss, emotional distress, etc.). To prove criminal conversation, it need only be shown that there was an actual marriage and that there was sexual intercourse between the Plaintiff’s spouse and the defendant.
On April 6, 2017, James King filed a lawsuit against Francisco Garcia Huizar in North Carolina state court, citing claims of Alienation of Affection and Criminal Conversation. King married his first wife, Danielle Swords King, on April 3, 2010, and they had one child together. Mr. King owned a BMX bicycle business, which Mrs. King assisted him in running. In mid-2015, Mrs. King attended a BMX show in New York as part of her company duties. It was during the time of this show that Mrs. King met Francisco Huizar and that the two began their affair.
From August to December 2015, King and Huizar spent approximately 6,000 minutes on the telephone and exchanged hundreds of text messages with each other. During that same period, Huizar rented hotel rooms close to the King marital home to facilitate his sexual encounters with Mrs. King. Mr. King did not become aware of the affair until November 2015. He was tipped off by Mr. Huizar’s then-current girlfriend, who sent Mr. King a Facebook message after she became aware of the affair. Mr. King subsequently confronted his wife with allegations of her affair with Mr. Huizar. Mrs. King vehemently denied the affair, and Mr. and Mrs. King continued their marriage until January 2017, when the two separated. Mrs. King moved into an apartment she leased jointly with Mr. Huizar who funded the apartment, although he did not live there full time.
Mr. and Mrs. King officially divorced on December 15, 2017, with Mr. King as the filing party. On April 6, 2017, Mr. King filed a lawsuit against Huizar, citing alienation of affection and criminal conversation (he also asserted other claims, including intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligent infliction of emotional distress). All claims stemmed from the extramarital affair between Mr. Huizar and Danielle King.
The court found Huizar guilty of both Alienation of Affection and Criminal Conversation regarding his affair with Mrs. King. The court awarded James King compensatory damages of $2.2 million and punitive damages of $6.6 million. Specifically, the court found that “[Huizar’s] conduct during King’s marriage was reprehensible and malicious.” The court also found “by clear and convincing evidence that aggravating factors are present in this matter, including but not limited to malice and willful and wanton conduct on the part of the Defendant [Huizar], with the conscious and intentional disregard of and indifference to the rights and safety of others, which Defendant knew or should have known was reasonably likely to result in damage, injury or other harm.”
The issue before the court was whether Huizar’s conduct was “malicious.” For an alienation of affection claim to be successful, a Plaintiff must prove, in part, that the third party’s actions were wrongful or malicious acts. Moreover, it must be proven that harm was caused because of the wrongful and malicious act of the third party. In this case, the court determined that Huizar’s actions met the definition of “malicious activity” based on the evidence which showed a willful interference with Plaintiff’s marriage from August 2015 through the King’s marital separation and that he continued the behavior until the parties were divorced in December 2017.
It is not especially common to pursue claims of alienation of affection or criminal conversation, even in the few states which still allow them. These claims can be challenging to prove. The requirement that a genuine and loving marriage existed prior to the third-party interference can be difficult to substantiate. It can also be difficult to verify that the third party’s wrongful acts destroyed the marriage. Marriages can be rocky before a third party enters the picture.
The pre-existing loving relationship requirement for an alienation of affection claim is directly tied to the willful and malicious act by the third-party requirement. If the marriage was already in disrepair, it could be difficult to prove that the third party’s actions contributed to the destruction of the marriage. It is often difficult for a court to determine what is going on in a relationship. Before considering an alienation of affection suit in North Carolina, it is essential to have as much evidence as possible that points to a genuine and loving marriage before the third party entered the picture. Such evidence makes it easier to show that the third party’s conduct was willful and malicious and was the reason for the destruction of the marriage. If you have any questions regarding Alienation of Affection or Criminal Conversation claims in North Carolina, contact an experienced family law attorney.