Local News

NC one of seven states that makes cheaters pay

Posted April 28, 2014
Updated April 29, 2014

— North Carolina is one of seven states in the country that allows a jilted spouse to sue someone for ruining their marriage. Husbands and wives file hundreds of lawsuits in the state each year against their ex-spouses' alleged paramours, with some judgments topping $30 million.

Nicole Russell, of Holly Springs, was ordered to pay her former friend $1.5 million in 2012 after having an affair with the woman’s husband. That amount has risen to more than $1.9 million with interest.

“I wasn’t looking. I don’t think he was looking. It just happened,” Russell said.

Russell says she was separated from her husband when she became friends with Dray Holland. She helped him and his wife, Marika Holland, through the birth of their newborn child and babysat for them. Then, the friendship changed.

“Dray was miserable,” she said. “Literally, one day that was it. He just turned around and hugged me, and that was it. We just knew, and we were just like, ‘What are we going to do?’ His words to me were, 'I'm stuck. I don't know what to do. She will destroy me.'”

Russell says she and Dray Holland went with their hearts, and she got pregnant. Marika Holland got mad.

“She went ballistic, absolutely ballistic. She gave him an ultimatum and said, ‘As long as you sign over property, time share, motorcycle, house, everything except your truck, I'll drop the lawsuit.’” Russell recalled. “I can understand completely she was hurt because I, as well, went through the same thing.”

Russell says she didn’t expect to be hit with an alienation of affection lawsuit and a $1.5 million judgment.

“So, that’s for the rest of my life. She owns me,” Russell said, adding that she is not responsible for breaking up the marriage. “It was already broken before I ever was involved.”

An attorney for Marika Holland released a statement to WRAL News, saying her client does "not wish to engage in a public airing of dirty laundry."

"This case has been through the judicial process," attorney Carolyn Lovejoy wrote. "Because there are children involved, Ms. Holland declines to comment on Ms. Russell's version of events."

The so-called broken-heart tort involves two components. One is alienation of affection, which accuses someone of breaking up a happy marriage. The other is criminal conversation, which involves sexual acts. The idea dates back hundreds of years to colonial North Carolina, when women were seen as property.

Russell is not alone when it comes to being on the losing end of these kinds of lawsuits.

In March 2011, a Wake County judge gave the largest alienation of affection award in state history to Carol Puryear, the ex-wife of Donald Puryear, who owns a trucking company in Raleigh. Betty Devin, who later married Donald Puryear, was accused of maliciously breaking up the marriage and was ordered to pay $30 million.

Victims rarely collect their judgments. In Russell's case, she has not paid Marika Holland any money, partially due to a bankruptcy filing. Devin, who was ordered to pay $30 million, has not paid anything, according to court records. The total was up to $42.7 million at last check.

Ditched spouses file about 200 lawsuits each year in North Carolina – 187 in 2012, 199 in 2011 and 205 in 2010. Many of the lawsuits are used as leverage in divorces and never make it in front of a judge. But WRAL News found some that do, especially those with the bigger verdicts, have something in common – the defendants are not always heard.

In Russell’s case, she says she was never notified, and her defense table sat empty at the November 2012 trial. She had no idea about the trial or judgment, she says, until a deputy came to her home in November 2012 and served her with the $1.5 million decision.

“I thought I was going to have a heart attack. I thought I was going to die,” she said. I thought I was going to literally … I sat on the floor.”

Russell tried to get the judgment overturned but lost the appeal. The judge placed some blame on her lawyer for not knowing about the hearing, saying the attorney did "not demonstrate diligence in monitoring the status of the case."

Jere Royall, director of community impact and counsel with the North Carolina Family Policy Council, says he believes the Old English common law has modern meaning.

“State policy needs to help protect marriage,” he said. “Alienation of affection really offers the only practical legal consequence for third parties who commit wrongful and malicious acts that result in loss of love and affection in a marriage.”

State Rep. Darren Jackson, D-Wake, helped craft a compromise in 2009 that placed stricter rules on alienation of affection suits, stipulating that no one can be sued for actions taken after a couple has permanently and physically separated. A three-year statute of limitations was also placed on the law.

Jackson says he'd prefer the law be abolished all together.

“I had seen the toll it takes on families. It's an antiquated law,” he said. “It just creates more hard feelings and makes it impossible for the parties – the husband and wife who have separated – to move forward in individual lives and still focus on the well-being of their children.”

For now, moving forward is difficult for Russell and her new husband Dray Holland. She's in bankruptcy and expects to lose the house they share.

“I can never open a credit card account. I can never buy a home. I can never buy a car. I'm basically am teenager all over again,” she said. “I understood her feelings, I understood. But, to go to such an extreme of destroying someone … It's almost a sick game. I will fight this until I have nothing left to fight with."


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  • JustOneGodLessThanU Apr 30, 2014

    These lawsuits are yet another Big Government item to keep NC as a Nanny State. And, this has overwhelming Conservative support...just look at the comments here or the Conservative “Family” group who wants to use government to force people to do what the “Family” group wants.

  • JustOneGodLessThanU Apr 30, 2014

    View quoted thread

    And if the wife refuses?

  • Terri Moss Apr 30, 2014
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    I feel absolutely no pity for this woman or others like her. And you can tell yourself the marriage was broken, but he was still there...he hadn't left his wife, so you should have kept yourself out of the mix. You deserve what you got....nothing but a homewrecker!

  • SM Apr 30, 2014

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    It's deep, I know. But true. Human nature is to propagate the species. Marriage is an institution that makes both parties the property of the other. That is not in human nature, but is something that humans have been doing for thousands of years because of religious and societal pressures.

    The institution of marriage does more harm than good, especially since you have laws in place by the State that dictate WHO can get married, so it's not even something that is available to everyone, and is thus discriminatory by its very existence.

    For the betterment of everyone, it should be done away with as soon as possible. Then we won't have to worry about non-issues like gay marriage, or silliness like alienation of affection lawsuits filed by shrews who drove their men into the arms of another woman.

  • r90bmw2 Apr 29, 2014

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    Really? You are trying to place blame on a new mother who had NO desire to end a marriage SHE didn't view as "already broken"??
    I can assure you that it is NOT ALWAYS both spouses' fault for a marriage failing!! And according to the mistress, NEITHER party was "looking"..."I wasn't looking. I don't think he was looking. It just happened."
    You don't even KNOW if they tried to make it work, which I doubt since it appears the wife was unaware of the affair or that the marriage was broken. The husband didn't attempt to get out of the marriage until AFTER his mistress was PREGNANT because they decided to "go with their hearts". But how many marriages are going to remain intact in a situation like this one?
    You are right about one thing - the marriage WAS over WHEN (as soon as) the affair began...the wife just wasn't INFORMED of that!!! Too bad she COULDN'T sue the CHEATING husband instead of the pregnant mistress!!

  • r90bmw2 Apr 29, 2014

    I can't BELIEVE that this woman had the nerve to go on TV to whine & complain about her situation, after stating that she was such a good friend that she even helped this married couple "through" the birth of their firstborn child! Yet she allowed herself to get pregnant while her lover was STILL married - BRILLIANT!! It's inconceivable that she actually thinks (and says OUT LOUD) that she "understands" the hurt of this 1st time mother-the husband's 2 children are less than 1 year apart. I would have been ballistic, too! Here's a brand-new mother who's lost her husband AND the father of their only child-I doubt she ever saw THAT coming! As this couple was still legally married when she got pregnant, how can she NOT be responsible for the END of their marriage? At least the "now" ex-wife was smart enough to not want a public airing of dirty laundry-unlike the mistress who went on TV in a pathetic attempt to get sympathy. What she gets is to wonder when her new husband will cheat on her!

  • Ashley Moore Apr 29, 2014
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    Wow. Just... Wow.

  • carrboroyouth Apr 29, 2014

    Just get a divorce if your marriage is so broken that you are seeking the affections of others.

  • JustOneGodLessThanU Apr 29, 2014

    Jere Royall, director NC Family Policy, said “State policy needs to help protect marriage,”

    TRANSLATION, “I’m a Big Government person who loves restricting what consenting adults can do.”

    And said, “...legal consequences for third parties who commit wrongful and malicious acts...”

    TRANSLATION, “1- Love is malicious. 2- Marriage is always perfect. Forever. If not, too bad. There is no way out. 3- We should not hold people accountable, but instead blame third parties.”

  • Tracy Watson Apr 29, 2014
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    Cannot always be fixed with counseling but that's a good thought.