There’s no doubt that having a broken heart sucks, but it’s one of those things we just live with as humans…right? Despite living in such a litigious culture, I had never even conceived of the notion of suing someone for breaking my heart. And then I saw an episode of Card Sharks (video), the 1980’s game show where contestants have to answer survey questions posed to 100 people of the same demographic (i.e. 100 single men, 100 NYC police officers, etc) in order to gain control of the game. Jim Perry, in his cocky flirtatious style, rattled off the survey question, as he had so many times. Only this time, the question was, “Out of 100 married men: Should a man whose wife was stolen be able to sue for damages?” Take a guess, what do you think the answer was? I was surprised when the number “49” flashed across the board. Almost 50% of men surveyed in 1981 wished they could sue a lost love.
Granted, the survey pool wasn’t very large and since we’re unsure of the collections methods, it’s wholly logical to call these results in to question. Hell, no one could sue someone just because of a broken heart. While things have changed drastically in the US since the 1980’s, the desire to sue an ex-lover is ever growing. News stories have spotted headlines across the country recently, bringing even more notice to such a (seemingly) outrageous claim.
Let’s get down to the meat and potatoes of the matter. Seven states in the union (Hawaii, Illinois, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Dakota, and Utah) have laws dating back to the mid-19th century allowing a scorned lover to launch a civil suit in state court, citing “alienation of affections,” or the ability to sue your spouse’s lover. While the legality here isn’t necessarily in question, the absurdity of the law is. While it appears there may be an upward trend in alienation of affections suits in the last decade filed by both men and women (we all know what they say about a woman scorned…), the number of cases hasn’t necessarily increased, only the notoriety.
What’s even more surprising? The clearly antiqued law gets enforced…and ex-lovers have to pay upwards of $5,000 to $10,000, and some times in to the millions. But watch out. Not only are you at risk if you run off with someone else, but your ‘someone else’ could be seriously financially liable! One Illinois man, married for ten years, sued his wife’s lover for alienating him from his wife…and was granted $4,802. While the details are complex, the fact is, the judicial system is somehow able to put a price on love.
So what does this mean for the future of love and relationships, particularly in an increasingly globalized world? With increased availability of cheap legal advice online and the notoriety some of these cases have gotten, it’s likely that more of these cases will continue to appear asking for more and more money moving forward unless the remaining states abolish the law.
What does this say about the institution of marriage in the United States? Why not get a divorce and leave it at that? Well, because we need revenge. Applying this to Hrdy, however, it appears as if the ratio of men to women filing these suits (well, the ones that don’t get thrown out of court) is relatively equal. What’s the lesson here? Don’t cheat. Just get the darn divorce and move on.
Here’s another story for thought about our neighbor, North Carolina…
**Note, the hyperlinks take you either to a legal advice site where I got the majority of my information or to news stories that I really enjoyed or found interesting. :)