Marriage Infidelity: Suing a mistress for alienation of affection

In English and other languages, there are many terms for a mistress: doxy, fancy woman, adulteress, courtesan, concubine, etc. While these terms almost exclusively are applied to females, there is certainly no lack of “male mistresses” in this world, but what label would we give to them? Mister doesn’t seem to fit the bill, and we think philanderer, cheater and cad are the ones most commonly used. Homewrecker could apply to both or either depending on the circumstances. No matter which term you use, in 7 U.S. states there are legal ways to deal with a spouse’s inamorata and one woman in a North Carolina courtroom last year did just that in a big way.

When Cynthia Shackelford discovered her husband, attorney Allan Shackelford, engaged in a long term extra-marital affair with Anne Lundquist, she decided to make an example of them. She sued Ms. Lundquist for alienation of affection. It’s a cause of action created a long time ago when women were still considered property of the husband, but it’s still on the books in some US states (not in Maryland, DC or Virginia). The basics of such a lawsuit are the following:

Alienation of affection(s) is a legal action, a tort based on willful and malicious interference with marriage relations by a third party. The elements constituting the cause of action are wrongful conduct of the defendant, plaintiff’s loss of affection or consortium of spouse, and a causal connection between the two.

In the Shackelford case the jury award $9 million to the scorned wife – $5 million in compensatory damages and $4 million in punitive damages. Ms. Lundquist has filed an appeal claiming among other things that she didn’t have proper notice of the trial and was unavailable to appear. Both she and Mr. Shackelford have publicly stated that the Shackelford marriage was “over” long before they met and thus a causal connection between the cheating and the loss of affection cannot be established. Ms. Shackelford claims Ms. Lundquist “lured” her husband away from their marriage. As with most issues, the truth probably lies somewhere in between.

Lest you think this only happens to a female mistress in North Carolina, “in 2001, a jury awarded $1.4 million to a distraught husband in Mecklenburg County. On appeal, the court reversed the decision on $910,000 of the award but left about $500,000 for the husband.”

What do you think about alienation of affection lawsuits? Good laws and keep them on the books? Or, these laws are antiquated and no longer relevant to modern society?

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