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Is a spouse property?

Last week the North Carolina Court of Appeals upheld the constitutionality of laws that a local man used when he sued a Winston-Salem doctor.

The man, Marc Malecek, sued Dr. Derek Williams. Malecek claims in court documents that the doctor had a sexual relationship with Malecek’s wife Amber, who is a nurse at the hospital. 

Can a man sue his wife’s paramour?

The short answer is currently yes. Two common laws can be used to sue your spouse’s lover in North Carolina. They are the "alienation of affection" and "criminal conversation" (adultery) laws. But these two laws are uncommon. There are only seven states that currently permit a spouse to file an “alienation of affection” lawsuit against his or her spouse's lover.   

The seven states

A spouse can bring a lawsuit against his or her spouse’s lover in Hawaii, Illinois, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Dakota and Utah.

How it happened

  • Citing these two common laws, Malecek brought the lawsuit against Dr. Williams
  • Williams argued that laws prohibiting sexual relations between consenting adults are unconstitutional violating the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
  • A Forsyth County judge agreed with Williams and dismissed Malecek’s case.
  • The appeals court overturned that decision and sent it back to the lower court.
  • A three judge panel found that the two laws are not unconstitutional citing that the laws are “designed to prevent and remedy personal injury, and to protect the promise of monogamy that accompanies most marriage commitments.”

The point of legal conflict

Those who oppose the “alienation of affection” and “criminal conversation” laws say the laws are based on the archaic principle of a woman being chattel- or the property of her husband.  These detractors also say that the motivating factor for this type of lawsuit is not morality but revenge and money.

Proponents insist these laws make people rethink their actions. They say the laws do what they are intended to do:  protect the sanctity of marriage.

Detractors say the opposite, that laws such as these are detrimental to a marriage and actually do more harm than good to a family.

A point of interest is that the law states that a couple must have had “genuine love and affection” for each other before those feeling were “alienated” by the spouse’s lover.

Do you agree?

What do you think about “alienation of affection” and “criminal conversation” lawsuits? 

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