The revenge fantasies of jilted lovers have made for some excellent books, plays, and films. Wanting someone to pay for hurting you is a fairly normal reaction to being hurt. Over time, however, that need for revenge becomes less important, and you find a way to move forward.
Unless you’re in North Carolina, where you could conceivably argue that your pain is worth $750,000 – and win.
How an outdated “homewrecker” law led to a judgement for three quarters of a million dollars
Robert Howard was married for 12 years. He and his wife became friendly with a man named Greg Jernigan, and eventually Jernigan and Howard’s wife started sleeping together. When confronted, Howard’s wife, Julie, admitted to the affair, but the couple eventually divorced in September 2018, per the Washington Post.
Howard, however, was not content with a simple divorce from his wife. He sued Jernigan “for alienation of affection and criminal conversation.” (“Criminal conversation” is a euphemism for sex, dating back to an English common law, when it was considered impolite to talk about such things in public). Howard told WITN that “he held his marriage sacred and the split was almost unbearable,” and that Jernigan’s “actions were intentionally meant to destroy his marriage.” His attorney, Cynthia Mills, likened it to a personal injury claim, where you can sue for damages if you are hurt.
The judge agreed, and Howard was awarded $750,000. He is unlikely to recoup the money he spent filing the claim, or the actual damages themselves. Howard says, however, that this wasn’t really about the money: “I filed the case because I feel that it’s very important that people understand that the sanctity of marriage is important especially in this day and age when people question everyone’s morals.”
The Washington Post reports that “Mills and Howard haven’t tried to execute the judgment for now, but the judgment is valid for 10 years. If Jernigan were to come into money or property within that time, the door to collect will be open.”
Can this really be legal?
“Alienation of affection” statutes are real, and there are six states with laws that allow a spurned partner to sue for compensation. (Tennessee is no longer among them, as we abolished our alienation statutes.) According to Howard’s attorney, this isn’t even the largest award her clients have won; in 2010, she represented a client who was awarded $5.9 million.
Filing for divorce for adultery is not the same as suing for damages
In Tennessee, if you or your spouse cheats, the other person may cite adultery as the grounds for the divorce filing. However, because the state abolished its “homewrecker” statutes, you cannot sue for damages in Tennessee if your spouse cheats.
That does not mean that you cannot make a compelling argument for why you deserve more in the event of a divorce. If your spouse spent marital funds on luxury items or trips for his or her paramour, it could potentially affect how your assets are divided (though technically, adultery should not affect the equitable division of assets). Adultery may also affect an alimony award, and in some cases, you may be entitled to attorneys’ fees, too.
Although Tennessee law may not allow us to secure damages for you under and alienation of affection statute, the Nashville divorce attorneys of Miller Upshaw Family Law, PLLC can help obtain the outcome you deserve. To learn more about our services, or to reserve an in-person or video consultation time at our office, please call us at 615-391-4200 or contact us today.