Local News

Lawmakers Fail To Bring Up 'Alienation Of Affection' For Debate

Posted September 26, 2005 5:57 a.m. EDT

— Many attorneys say the "alienation of affection" law is archaic and should be taken off the books. Others say it protects the sanctity of marriage.

  • George Berg spends a lot of time these days looking at pictures of his sons. They spend half their time with him and half with his estranged wife and her boyfriend.

    "My goal was to save my family, so I did not hire a lawyer directly," Berg said.

    After Berg discovered his wife of 11 years was having an affair with a local man she met online, he looked at his options.

    "It was amazing. Everything was gone -- the boys, my wife, my house. Everything was gone," Berg said.

    Berg decided to sue the boyfriend for alienation of affection, holding him financially liable for the breakup up his marriage.

    "They shouldn't be able to pick up the phone, start e-mailing knowing the other person is married," he said. "There is not just one heart, but multiple hearts at stake," he said.

    "They knew it was wrong. They accepted it. They should be accountable," attorney Bert Diener said.

    Diener represents Berg. It is the first time he has ever filed this type of lawsuit on a client's behalf.

    "After seeing what George has gone through, the humilation, the heartache, mostly the heartache. You really like to feel like there is something you can do," Diener said.

    "It's a bad law. It's outdated. It doesn't really help anybody. It treats women as property," attorney Lee Rosen said.

    For years, Rosen, along with dozens of other lawyers across the state, has lobbied to get the law off the books. This year, they could not even find a lawmaker to sponsor a bill to abolish the law.

    "It feels like you're legalizing adultery. Lawmakers don't want to be the people responsible for that," Rosen said.

    North Carolina is one of only seven states that still has such a law. Rosen said the law is rarely a deterrent and usually does more harm than good.

    "After the fact, lawsuits are filed which are like nuclear bombs dropping on families and they make it much harder for people to heal," he said.

    Berg said even now he would take his wife back to keep him family intact, but he feels that the lawsuit is what he must do.

    "It's not about revenge. It's not about money. It's about falling asleep with your wife in your arms," he said.

    WRAL contacted Berg's estranged wife, her boyfriend and their attorneys. They declined to comment.

    Lawyers who support removing the alienation of affection law from the books said they do not expect any action on the issue during the next legislative session.

    Alienation of affection cases often yield high-dollar rewards. In August, a Fayetteville woman won a $550,000 judgment against another woman she said stole her husband. Last year, a Robeson County jury awarded a man more than $500,000 after his wife had an affair with a co-worker. In 2001, a woman won $2 million after she sued her husband's girlfriend.