†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† THE COUNSELORíS CORNER
As of May 3rd of this year I am now a married man.† My wife, Barbara, is originally from Missouri.† I mention this because Missouri just joined most of the rest of the states in this country by taking away one's ability to be sued if you steal the spouse of another.† This is a cause of action known as alienation of affection.† It now exists in only seven states out of our 50.† The Missouri State Supreme Court divided 5 to 2 on this issue, deciding that this law was archaic and was the product of outdated views that husbands and wives are the property of each other.†
This decision arose out of a case in St. Joseph, Missouri, where one woman, Katherine Helsel, sued another woman, Sivi Roellsch,† who had allegedly stolen her husband, David Helsel.† The other woman in this case turned out to be the husband's chiropractor - apparently she wanted to get her hands on him in other than a professional way.† In July of 2000, shortly after the birth of the second child of Katherine Helsel and David Helsel, David filed for divorce.† He had already begun a sexual relationship with Ms. Roellsch.
This ruling was somewhat expected as the State Supreme Court took the case directly from the trial court, skipping the appeals process.† The court stated that while these alienation of affection lawsuits are not common, most of them are revenge motivated and not designed to "help preserve marriages" as the woman scorned had claimed.† The ruling of the State Supreme Court made clear the fact that society is not looking to compensate victims of adultery.†
Not only had the trial court permitted the cause of action to go forward, but the plaintiff, Katherine Helsel, won a $75,000.00 judgment against Sivi Noellsch, the chiropractor.† Needless to say the $75,000.00† damage award was thrown out.
The first ever alienation of affection cause of action in this country was put forth in New York in the mid 1800's.† While most states have done away with it since then, North Carolina would be a notable exception, in that their supreme court recently upheld a $500,000.00 punitive damage judgement to a man who sued his wife's former college boyfriend over his affair with her and it's ramifications.
In the Helsel case,† one of the dissenting justices wrote that it should be the State Legislature rather than the court that does away with this cause of action for alienation of affection, however the 5 justices in the† majority noted that the courts had created this tort in the first place.
Well, Missouri has now joined the 21st century according to one pundit.† I believe he is right.† While no one is in favor of adultery, going back to the Ten Commandments, if people were able to collect damages for being the victim in such a situation, can you imagine how much more crowded our courts would be?† It would be non-stop.
Dr. Charles J. Unger is a criminal defense attorney in the Glendale law firm of Flanagan, Unger & Grover, and a therapist at the Foothill Centre for Personal and Family Growth.† Mr. Unger writes a bimonthly column on legal and psychological issues.† He can be reached at charlieunger @hotmail.com