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More Spouses Suing the "Other" Man or Woman

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RALEIGH — Love and honor. Forsake all others. Marriage vows are easier said thandone. Those who know say adultery is more common than most of us want tobelieve. That betrayal can come with a a big payoff. A 200-year-old North Carolina law allows betrayed spouses to sue the "other" person fordamages and put a price tag on broken vows.

North Carolina is one of a handful of states which still has this 18thcentury law on the books. In essence, it allows a spouse to sue theperson who stole his or her husband or wife. It's not used often. Buttwice in the past few weeks jilted spouses have been awarded big sums ofmoney from North Carolina courts.

When people get married, they assume it will last forever. The 1987 movie"Fatal Attraction" reminds us that adultery happens everyday. DorothyHutelmyer chose not to be a victim. She sued her husband's lover and wonone million dollars last month in an Alamance court. These cases are nosurprise to private investigators who are often hired to follow cheatingspouses.

Jim Hilton uses small video cameras, some so small they can shoot out ofa pinpoint in a baseball, to document adultery. The tapes are then usedas evidence in court.

Hilton looks for "any kind of holding hands, kissing in public, havinglunch or dinner together at a secluded restaurant. Basically being alonetogether for a period of time will help prove the case."

But even with evidence, attorneys say to win this type of lawsuit you mustprove several things, including that the marriage was in good standingbefore the affair and that the affair happened.

"That is clear liability of the defendant," family law attorney MarkSullivan says. "They obviouslydid something wrong, and a deep pocket, a wealthy defendant who can paydamages if you get them from the jury."

Attorneys say the publicity surrounding the law will no doubt spurn morecases.

About ten years ago the North Carolina Supreme Court looked at the possibilityof doing away with this law. But justices decided that it was up to theGeneral Assembly to take a law off the books. So for now, betrayed spouses can continue to get financial revenge on the person they saywrecked their marriage.

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