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In 1921, one Edward Mc Farlin sued Senator Ralph Cameron, of Arizona, for alienation of affection; Cameron, according to the plaintiff, had committed acts of “misconduct” with Marjorie Mc Farlin on a New Haven railroad train. The Senator denied the charges and accused the Mc Farlins of blackmail. After all, the newspapers tended to report the lurid, the sensational, the unusual; and these were often distinctly fishy—stories that played into the idea that these causes of action were open invitations to abuse, that they led to false claims, extortion, blackmail, and the like.State after state felt the heat and got rid of all of these actions: breach of promise, criminal conversation, alienation of affections.“Crim con” and alienation of affections fit neatly into this cluster of legal devices.They were, to be sure, bit players in the drama, but they were not completely unimportant. On February 12, 2014, she filed a lawsuit in Forsyth County, North Carolina, against Sherry Cooke of Winston-Salem; she claimed that Cooke had had an “adulterous affair” with Angela’s husband, Timothy Gray Rothrock.Historically, there were two causes of action that might allow a man to sue his wife’s lover, or a woman to sue her husband’s mistress: criminal “conversation” and alienation of affection (collectively known, along with some others, as “heartbalm” actions).And the few other survivors—Hawaii, New Mexico, Utah, and South Dakota—seem to make little or no use of these lawsuits. “Crim con” and alienation of affections, in his view, were obsolete relics of a bygone day.
A plaintiff has a case for alienation of affections if he or she can show a happy marriage (a marriage of “genuine love and affection”) which the wicked defendant had “alienated and destroyed,” through “wrongful and malicious acts.” To win a case of “criminal conversation,” a married plaintiff has to show that the defendant, during the marriage, had sexual intercourse with the plaintiff’s spouse.About two hundred suits for alienation of affections are filed each year in North Carolina.Some sort of climax was reached in 2010: Cynthia Shackelford got an award of million against Anne Lundquist, the woman who broke up Cynthia’s long-term marriage (thirty-three years).The History of Heartbalm In the high and palmy days of Victorian sensibilities, these two causes of action had been very much alive.They were part of a cluster of rules and institutions that aimed to build a kind of legal wall enclosing and protecting traditional marriage.