Adultery and North Carolina’s ‘Broken Hearts’ Law

Cheating and betrayal are heartbreaking, and foment many marital breakups. Despite adultery’s emotional pain and economic wreckage, most states don’t punish adultery. North Carolina stands apart: it is one of a few states which recognize adultery as a tort (a wrongful act which are legally-valid grounds to sue).

North Carolina’s so-called broken-heart tort has two significant aspects:

  • criminal conversation — extramarital sexual acts
  • alienation of affection — breaking up a happy (or otherwise amicable) marriage

Those laws hearken back to Colonial America, over 200 years ago, when women were considered chattel (property).

A Texas Man’s Costly Affair

San Antonio resident Francisco Huizar III cavorted with Keith King’s wife Danielle for 16 months. King’s marriage erupted. King sued in North Carolina where he resided. Recently, a North Carolina judge ordered Huizar to pay a whopping $8.8 million to the disconsolate ex-husband King.

Why so much money? About 75 percent was for punitive damages, meant to punish Huizar. But 25 percent ($2.2 million) was awarded to compensate for economic, tangible damages. It seems that King’s wife Danielle worked at his BMX company, and he lost significant revenue and his employee as a result of the ongoing infidelity.

The jilted former husband sued on the following grounds:

  • criminal conversation
  • alienation of affection
  • intentional infliction of emotional distress
  • negligent infliction of emotional distress
  • ssault and battery

Importantly, the grounds withstood challenge because there was no proof that the spouses were unhappy before wife Danielle devolved into her affair. Furthermore, there was proof that the male mistress came between the couple.

The sordid extramarital affair ultimately proved costly for Huizar, the wife’s paramour.

Texas Does Not Recognize “Alienation of Affection” Claims

Texas state law expressly prohibits “alienation of affection” claims:

Texas Family Code Section 1.107: ALIENATION OF AFFECTION NOT AUTHORIZED. A right of action by one spouse against a third party for alienation of affection is not authorized in this state.

Although Texas doesn’t recognize alienation of affection claims, fault in the break up of the marriage can play a role in dividing the community estate. For example, judges often factor in adultery when equitably dividing a married couple’s community property. Property may not be proportionately divided; the cheating spouse may receive less than 50 percent of communal assets. One rationale is that the philandering wife or husband spent the couple’s money to perpetrate the liaison (e.g., for travel, overnights in tawdry motels, vacations, meals, buying gifts). Judges frown on that, and the betrayed spouse is a sympathetic victim.

The Law Office of Jaclyn Y. Roberson, PLLC is a family law and estate planning firm based in San Antonio serving the citizens of South and Central Texas.