Statute of Limitations on Alienation of Affection in the United States

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Alienation of affection is an old common law cause of action against someone who commits adultery -- which is generally defined as sexual intercourse with a married individual. The modern trend has been to abolish this cause of action; thus it is only recognized in a handful of states, including Mississippi and North Carolina. A statute of limitation places a time window that any aggrieved spouse may file suit, and in those states that allow such an action, the time period is typically three years.

North Carolina Statute of Limitations

  • Pursuant to The North Carolina General Statutes Section 52-13, the statute of limitations for an action for alienation of affection and criminal conversation is three years from the last act of the defendant which gives rise to the action. This means that if you find that a person has been having an affair with your spouse for two years, you can sue based not on the beginning of the alienation but the last act of the extra-marital affair.

Mississippi Statute of Limitations

  • Mississippi applies a three-year statute of limitation to an alienation of affection action pursuant to the State Code Annotated Section 15-1-49. Mississippi's statute of limitation begins when the "alienation or loss of affection is finally accomplished." This means that the cheating spouse's alienation is the controlling factor, not the alienation of the wronged spouse.

Particulars of Action

  • In those states that allow alienation of affection causes of action, each has been tailored to fit the specific state legislature's view of such actions. For instance, while Illinois has an alienation of affection statute located at 740 ILCS 5/0 through 740 ILCS 5/7, the statute limits recovery only to actual damages and forbids the award of punitive damages.

Damages as Inherently Unknowable

  • The modern trend away from alienation of affection actions is predicated upon the understanding that damages in such actions are inherently unknowable and that such actions are merely punitive in nature as they do not repair or restore the marital relationship.

References

  • Photo Credit Pixland/Pixland/Getty Images
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