This past Monday, March 14 of 2011, Wake County Judge Carl Fox awarded a sum of $30 million to Carol Puryear of Raleigh, North Carolina, in her Alienation of Affection suit against Ms. Betty Devin. Though the amount is one of the largest in North Carolina’s history, including $10 million in compensatory damages and another $20 million in punitive damage, lawyers have said that the numbers in such cases are not determined based upon the defendant’s ability to pay.
I and my investigators here at Cat’s Eye Private Investigations have worked numerous cases which have gone to court for Alienation of Affection, so as soon as I read the news brief about the judgment, I immediately knew that a private investigator had worked the case on Ms. Puryear’s behalf in order to prove the matter so convincingly. North Carolina’s laws require you to prove the third party has maliciously contributed to the demise of a marriage in order to legally establish alienation of affection and win such a case.
Alienation of affection cases have been seen in our state since as early as 1926, when a North Carolina jury awarded a Macon County woman $12,000 due to another woman’s interference with her marriage, eventually leading to a divorce. While many states over the years have chosen to abolish their alienation of affection laws, the North Carolina Supreme Court determined not to do so when the matter came up in 1984, instead preserving this law even to today.
The courts here in North Carolina have shown in these law suits that the behavior of the married individual is very relevant to the case. A judge may consider conduct both before and after the date of separation, particularly if it can be shown that the couple was in the process of attempting to reconcile the marriage and the third party intervened in that. Further, if the plaintiff in such a case has circumstantial proof obtained before the date of separation, and the individual’s conduct further supports this with a relationship blossoming very soon after the date of separation, those facts can further weigh on the decision to award damages. As unbelievable as it may sound, alienation of affection suits are mainly seeking to prove not sex, but rather that the couple was married and in love until this person’s interference destroyed the relationship. Yet in my years of private investigation, I have seen time and again my clients come back to me telling me that the evidence we obtained allowed them to prove exactly that.
Our clients come into our office upset, overwhelmed, and often unable to tell what they should do in such difficult and painful circumstances as facing a cheating spouse. The hard truth is that at some point in our lives, we all have had to learn that life is not fair. Feeling that someone we love or have loved could treat us so poorly is incredibly hurtful, and the natural course of action is to strike back at the ones who have inflicted that pain.
The reality is that many of these cases are not pursued simply because of the expense involved, with the existing divorce process already being so draining in so many ways. Often the third party does not have any assets to pursue, or what they have is not sufficient to make the cost of suit worthwhile. Even in Ms. Puryear’s case, she may not actually collect that $30 million judgment she has been awarded. But I guarantee you she felt better walking out of that courtroom with the moral victory under her belt.