GREENVILLE, NC (WITN) - A Pitt County man won a $750,000 judgment against another man for alienation of affection, stealing his wife away.
"She had originally told me that she wanted a divorce because I work too much, wasn't around to be there and I worked too much. I talked about that as part of my mistake in the situation, but it was like a punch in the gut because I thought I had this trust for 12 years and love," said Kevin Howard.
Although adultery is sometimes romanticized in movies or popular in reality TV, in real life cheating with someone married and causing their divorce is illegal in North Carolina and 6 other United States Jurisdictions.
Hawaii, Mississippi, New Mexico, South Dakota, Utah, and North Carolina still hold the alienation of affection law sacred.
Kevin Howard said he held his marriage sacred and the split was almost unbearable. "It was the hardest thing of ever had to face, it was like someone calling you and telling you that a family member had tragically died."
Although it didn’t heal his heart, the alienation of affection law helped Howard in court. According to court records, another man was responsible for alienating his wife from him and a judge ruled in Howard’s favor in August.
Howard said the man's actions were intentionally meant to destroy his marriage. "He came to my house and ate dinner with us. We shared stories we talked about personal lives."
Kevin Howard sued the man his wife had an affair with and won a judgment of $750,000. His attorney Cindy Mills said the defendant initially laughed about the case.
"I said do you find something funny about this process and he said yes he said I think it's funny that your client would sue me over this and for people who have that perception of this tort (law), that's very dangerous perception to have because the same person who laughed in that deposition, that defendant now has a $750,000 judgment against them, so I don't think he's laughing now," said Mills.
Mills also said Howard probably won’t see any of the judgment money but compares these cases to personal injury cases. "It’s just like a personal injury case, you get damages if someone has a wreck and hurt you very badly you get damages for that. Marital courts are the same premise. You get damages if someone injures your marriage,” said Mills.
Howard said going to court was about more than money, adding "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 people questions everyone's liability of a person and the state backed me up on it."
If the defendant can't pay, it turns into debt owed and appears on his credit report. This is why some attorneys, like Paul Jenkins, question the existence and function of the law.
Jenkins said, "Are we backing up the court system for a week or two weeks to have the jury selection, jury trial, and for the plaintiff to spend tens of thousands of dollars to end up getting a piece of paper they're never going to collect against,"
In her 30-year law career, Mills has argued on average about one alienation of affection case every year. She said, "My largest verdict would've been delivered in 2010 which was $5.9 million my lowest was $60,000 in a Beaufort County case."
Attorney Kellie Gonzalez thinks this year should be the last year for the law. She said, “I think the law should be repealed, there have been several legislative movements and attempts to have the law removed but those have failed.” Adding, it’s the court way of trying to inflict morality on society.
In North Carolina, the law was only successfully challenged once in the 1984 case of Cannon versus Miller where the state court of appeals changed the law, It’s considered the brief death of alienation of affections.
After the brief death of the law in 1984, the state Supreme Court reversed the lower court's decision and harshly criticized the court for its actions. Then, as recent as 2010 backed up the law again.
Mills said, "They're not going anywhere, they're protecting these torts."
A law she said could also protect other marriages. As for Kevin Howard, his marriage is over and he said he is still recovering from the damage of losing it but is in therapy.
“I have scars and I still have a lot of healing to do,” he said.