Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Sue the Home Wrecker!

Did someone lure your spouse away? Sue!

Two spurned spouses filed lawsuits in Minnehaha County last week against the persons they say broke up their marriages.The cases are unrelated except that both plaintiffs hired the same lawyer and both are alleging "alienation of affections," a rare tort permitted by only a handful of states.

It's not easy to win.

To succeed, plaintiffs must prove the defendant's intentional, wrongful conduct caused a loss of affection or consortium in an otherwise loving marriage.

I can imagine a lot of ways to wiggle around that. There has been success,though.

In the lawyer's best-known case, Sioux Falls man Richard M. Jones won $400,000 from a Las Vegas doctor whose romantic affair with Jones's wife preceded their divorce. The jury initially awarded $950,000, but the South Dakota Supreme Court reduced it.

Efforts have been made to eliminate this law.

When the South Dakota Supreme Court was asked to abolish the law in 1999, it said the question is one for the Legislature, not the courts.Three years later, the Legislature rejected an attempt to repeal the 1877 statute, and instead made the language gender- neutral, making clear that a spurned wife could sue over the loss of her husbands' affection.

I can imagine this being used as a bargaining chip to get a more favorable settlement in exchange for avoiding more court proceedings.

This reminded me of a quirk in South Dakota divorce law. The famed catch-all "irreconcilable differences" can only be used as grounds for divorce if both sides agree. Otherwise the filing party has to use (and prove) one of these:

1) Adultery;(2) Extreme cruelty;(3) Willful desertion;(4) Willful neglect;(5) Habitual intemperance;(6) Felony Conviction

If none of those has occurred, all the other person has to do is refuse to agree to irreconcilable differences and the divorce won't happen. It seems to me the potential to use this for settlement leverage or old-fashioned spite is considerable.

As the lawyer who handled my first divorce said, the Legislature has decided to make divorce more difficult here than in other states.

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