Valentine’s Day is known for spending big money on flowers and gifts for wives and girlfriends. But as the Wall Street Journal reports, some people are spending big money to sue their Ex – and not just for divorce.
My Achy Breaky Heart
If someone stole your love away from you this Valentine’s Day, can you sue over it? In a few states, you still can.
These “homewrecker” or “heart balm” laws started in scandal. Unscrupulous women used to try to blackmail wealthy men out of large sums of money, helped along by a law allowing people to sue their Ex after a broken engagement. These ladies were “gold-diggers,” “schemers” and “adventuresses,” and what they were doing was nothing short of a racket.
Today, claims like alienation of affections are cases of wrongful acts which deprive a married person of the affections of his or her spouse — love, society, companionship and comfort of the other spouse.
Alienation of affection lawsuits these days arise when an outsider interferes with a marriage. Defendants in these cases are often an adulterous spouse’s lover, but family members, counselors, therapists, and religious members who have encouraged a spouse to get a divorce have also been sued for these matters.
To win an alienation of affection case, you have to prove (1) that the spouses were happily married and a genuine love and affection existed between them; (2) the love and affection was alienated and destroyed; and (3) the defendant caused the destruction of that marital love and affection.
Florida Heart Balm Laws
I’ve written about heart balm statutes before, especially as they relate to engagement rings.
These common law torts are commonly referred to as “heart balm” statutes, because they permitted the former lovers’ heartaches to heal without recourse to the courts.
The purpose of the heart balm statutes was originally to prevent the perpetration of fraud by litigants who would use the threat of a breach of promise of marriage to force defendants to make lucrative settlements in order to avoid embarrassing publicity.
The Florida heart balm statute, originally passed in 1941, abolishes common law actions for alienation of affections, criminal conversation, seduction, and breach of contract to marry.
The Florida Legislature found that those who break engagements may be “free of any wrongdoing … [and may be] merely the victims of circumstances.”
The preamble declares it to be Florida public policy that the best interests of the people of the state are served by the abolition of the breach of promise action.
Someone that I Used to Know
Nowadays, the right to sue for money as damage for the alienation of affections, criminal conversation, seduction, or breach of contract to marry are abolished in Florida.
But this common law tort is still a viable law in a few states in the United States which still allow alienation of affection lawsuits. These states include Hawaii, Illinois, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Dakota, and Utah.
Does that mean all similar lawsuits are over here? Even though Florida’s heart balm causes of action are abolished, that does not mean you can’t sue for replevin of the engagement ring you bought.
That’s because the giving of an engagement ring is a conditional gift in Florida that is dependent “on a voyage on the sea of matrimony.” If the voyage never gets underway, then the gift is never perfected, and the jilted suitor may seek its return by the traditional legal remedy of replevin. Replevin is still a legal remedy.
The Wall Street Journal article is here.