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Divorces would be quicker, alienation of affection suits a thing of the past under NC proposals

Divorces would be quicker, alienation of affection suits a thing of the past under NC proposals

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Democrats have filed bills in the state House and Senate that would end North Carolina’s controversial alienation of affection law.

Senate Bill 459 and companion House Bill 489 also would shorten the waiting period for getting a divorce to six months. Now, the waiting period is 12 months.

For couples without children, the six-month period could be waived if the divorce is uncontested and both parties agree.

The bills would allow for divorce proceedings to continue even if the couple remains in the same household for financial reasons, or have occasional sex.

The bills were filed last week.

Legislative analysts say the lack of Republican sponsors for either bill could signal they are unlikely to advance during the 2021 session.

North Carolina is one of just six states — Hawaii, Mississippi, New Mexico, South Dakota and Utah are the others — that allow alienation of affection lawsuits.

Under the law, people can file lawsuits against the person who had an affair with their spouse. People also can sue under what is known as criminal conversation, the legal term for extramarital sex.

The bills would not affect alienation lawsuits that are already filed.

State Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, and a co-sponsor of House Bill 489, said more than 200 alienation of affection cases are filed each year in North Carolina.

“Some of which have resulted in million or multimillion dollar verdicts,” Harrison said.

There have been multiple attempts over the years to abolish the law, without success, although it was amended in 2009 to limit its application.

Harrison said that these lawsuits are “often used to create problems for a defendant, such as attorney’s fees, or to intentionally inflict emotional distress, or as leverage in a divorce or custody proceeding.”

“I, like many, feel that these laws are outdated, based on 17th-century English law that viewed a married woman as her husband’s chattel,” she said.

Alienation of affection laws don’t protect marriages because claims under the law are often filed after a marriage has fallen apart, and are against a third party, a person accused of having a relationship with one of the spouses.

There have some successful lawsuits in recent years in North Carolina.

For example, a recent high-profile case involved a settlement reached last month by former Republican state Sen. Rick Gunn of Alamance County.

Gunn was sued in August 2020 by Arthur Johns of Wake County. Johns accused Gunn of breaking up his 20-year marriage to Karen Johns, who served as a legislative assistant to Gunn.

Richard Gantt, Arthur Johns’ attorney, told the News & Observer of Raleigh that the lawsuit would be dismissed after his client receives a monetary payment. He declined to provide more details.

Gunn’s attorney, Nathaniel Smith, confirmed the settlement and upcoming dismissal, but declined to say whether Gunn has agreed to pay Johns.

Another high-profile case that involved a Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center doctor and a nurse went to the N.C. Supreme Court in 2017.

Dr. Derek Williams, a former pediatric cardiologist at Wake, faced an alienation of affection lawsuit filed by Marc Malecek, alleging that Williams had an affair with Malecek’s wife, Amber Malecek. The affair was alleged to have occurred during the time when both Williams and Amber Malecek worked at Wake Forest Baptist, according to Marc Malecek’s lawsuit.

Judge Todd Burke of Forsyth Superior Court ruled in favor of Williams, who had argued that the alienation of affection law was unconstitutional.

Malecek appealed Burke’s decision to the N.C. Court of Appeals, which upheld the law.

The state Supreme Court declined to hear the case, meaning the appeals court ruling stood.

In 2012, a $20 million lawsuit by the ex-wife of Andrew “Flip” Filipowski, the owner of Silk Road Equity investment firm, against his alleged mistress was settled for $107,500.

Veronica Filipowski had sued Melissa Oliver in Forsyth Superior Court, alleging that Oliver’s affair with Flip Filipowski ruined their marriage.

Oliver filed a federal complaint in U.S. District Court in the Middle District of North Carolina, challenging the state’s alienation-of-affection law. She also challenged the state law in the N.C. Court of Appeals, which ruled against her.

The lawsuit was also high profile because Flip Filipowski was at the time an owner of the Winston-Salem Dash minor-league baseball team.

Construction of a new baseball stadium was delayed for months as Prim and Filipowski dissolved their business relationship.

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