Last week it was reported that a man in North Carolina successfully obtained a Judgment for $750,000 against the man with whom his ex-wife conducted an affair. These types of cases surface every once in a while and the cause of action is commonly referred to as “alienation of affection.” So the question is then, can I sue my spouse’s boyfriend/girlfriend in New Jersey?
The answer is no. Dating back 85 years, a law was passed in 1935 in New Jersey called the “Heart Balm Act”. Part of a larger national trend in the late 1930’s and 1940’s, the Heart Balm act prohibits lawsuits against third parties for causing the failure of a marriage or the failure of a promise to marry. This is still good law today. Such causes of action include alienation of affection, loss of consortium, and even the broken promise to marry. In fact, the origins of the law are commonly perceived to derive from several sensationalized national stories involving “unscrupulous” women who blackmailed wealthy older men with threats of lawsuits after breaking off engagements. Deeper historical background can be found in this article from Smithsonian Magazine in 2018 (https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/how-heart-balm-racket-convinced-america-women-were-no-good-180968144/).
This does not mean that adultery is still not a valid cause of action in New Jersey for divorce. The divorce, however, is your sole remedy. Fault is generally not a consideration in the determination of alimony or equitable distribution, so proving the adultery doesn’t usually get you anything additional in terms of compensation or “damages”. So, the bottom line is that there is no financial compensation to sought from the cheating “paramour” and in the case of a broken engagement, you probably have to return the ring as well.
Drew Molotsky, Esq. is a shareholder and partner at AMBF with decades of experience representing clients in all matters related to divorce and family law.