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What are Alienation of Affection and Criminal Conversation Charges in North Carolina?

Filing for divorce in North Carolina is a relatively unusual experience because, unlike in many other states, filing on fault grounds is not allowed. No-fault divorces are the only type allowable in the state[1]. Marriages can be dissolved by either spouse as long as they have been separated for at least one year and one or both of them have lived in North Carolina for at least six months[2].

Finding Fault in North Carolina Divorces

North Carolina does recognize marital misconduct in alimony calculations[3]. Marital misconduct can include any of the following acts[4]:

  • Illicit sexual behavior, including adultery
  • Abandonment
  • Cruel treatment
  • Reckless spending
  • Destruction or concealment of assets

Even though you cannot speed up the divorce process by filing based on fault, there are other options available to seek a remedy if your spouse has committed adultery. Lawsuits can be filed against the person with whom the cheating spouse had an affair. North Carolina is in the minority with this law, as most other states do not allow this option.

Alienation of Affection and Criminal Conversation

Alienation of affection and criminal conversation lawsuits must be filed within three years of the last adulterous occurrence[5]. The point of these lawsuits is to highlight the emotional distress and loss of companionship suffered by the filing spouse and to hold the third party responsible for this damage.

In Sprinkle v. Johnson[6], the North Carolina Court of Appeals vacated a judgment entered by the lower court because the defendant did not have proper notice of the trial. The plaintiff in this case filed a lawsuit against someone with whom their wife had an affair. The issue in appeals court was not whether the trial court’s judgment of over $2 million was correct, but rather that the defendant was not provided with proper due process.

Defendant’s attorney withdrew from the case after a mediator informed the court that the matter was settled. However, defendant did not receive notice of this withdrawal or the notice of hearing for the trial because the address served was no longer defendant’s address. Because defendant did not receive the notices, they were not aware of the trial, and a verdict was entered against them.

The Court of Appeals ruled that because no notice was provided to the defendant, the lower court’s decision would be vacated, and the case was remanded to the trial court for a new trial.

While due process in Sprinkle v. Johnson was violated, the original ruling from the trial court that defendant must pay plaintiff more than $2 million for their role in the adulterous conduct of plaintiff’s spouse was significant. North Carolina’s laws regarding alienation of affection and criminal conversation can greatly impact both parties.

If you need representation in your lawsuit for alienation of affection or criminal conversation, contact the Woodruff Family Law Group. Find out how our targeted family law experience can help you with your case by scheduling a consultation.

[1] North Carolina Judicial Branch.

[2] North Carolina General Statutes, §50-6.

[3] North Carolina General Statutes, § 50-16.3A.

[4] Id, § 50-16.1A.

[5] Id, § 52-13.

[6] Sprinkle v. Johnson, 278 N.C. App. 684, 863 S.E.2d.