Cynthia Shackelford believed her husband of 33 years was happy with her. However, he began spending later nights in his office and incurring suspicious charges on his credit card. Cynthia eventually grew suspicious, hired a private investigator, and learned that her husband was cheating on her. Her world was shaken, and like most scorned wives, she was devastated, betrayed, and angry.
However, Cynthia did something that most scorned wives do not think of doing—she filed a lawsuit against her husband’s mistress. In 2010, a jury awarded Cynthia $9,000,000 (you read that correctly: nine million dollars) from the mistress as compensation for “deliberately seducing” Cynthia’s husband and breaking up her marriage.
The legal term for this type of lawsuit is an “alienation of affection” lawsuit. Only seven states allow alienation of affection lawsuits: Hawaii, Illinois, North Carolina, Mississippi, New Mexico, South Dakota, and Utah. Exact requirements vary across states, but in order for a scorned spouse to prevail in an alienation of affection lawsuit, he or she would generally have to show that:
1. Love between the married spouses existed before the defendant entered into the picture;
2. The marital love was destroyed as a result of the defendant’s actions; and
3. The defendant’s conduct was malicious interference with the marital relationship.
It is unclear how much longer alienation of affection lawsuits will remain a viable option for scorned spouses. Alienation of affection lawsuits have been widely criticized by law professors, judges, and legislatures as being anachronistic, and nothing but a vehicle for petty revenge.
For Cynthia, however, the lawsuit meant more than revenge—she claims that it was her message to other women. In her words: “My main message is to all those women out there who might have their eyes on some guy that is married to not come between anybody.”
This appears to be very good advice—both ethically and financially.