A spouse who deems that the other’s actions warrant separation initiates an “at-fault” divorce. Mississippi law permits an uncommon fault-based basis for divorce: alienation of affection. Although rarely litigated, this legal claim permits someone presently or formerly married to sue a third party for interfering with the marital relationship.
The most common context for an alienation of affection involves a claim brought against a person who had an affair with a spouse. Generally, a plaintiff must prove:
- Shared affection between husband and wife
- Destruction of the love and affection by the defendant
- Subsequent alienation of the spouse
- Reasonable belief that the defendant’s behavior would lead to the end of the marriage.
Paternity discovery triggered the legal claim
A decision by the Supreme Court of Mississippi addressed an alienation of affection claim. A married couple divorced in 2001. The couple had two children: A son and daughter were born in 1987 and 1989, respectively. Upon discovering they belonged to another man, the husband sued him for alienation of affection in 2018. At trial, the wife and man testified to sporadic, unprotected sex in the late 1980s. The husband testified that sex continued during their marriage, although he sensed no detachment on her part.
Other evidence connected the man to the wife and daughter. The husband and daughter did not share DNA; the wife worked for the other man through 1995. Furthermore, the man claimed no knowledge regarding paternity until 2018. The jury found jointly and severally against the man and wife for $700,000. On appeal, the man and wife argued that the statute of limitations for an alienation of affection claim had expired.
The decision confirms the statute of limitations starting point
The Court noted the clock on the statute of limitations begins when the alienation or loss of affection is “finally accomplished” and classified the claim as a “latent injury” with a three-year statute of limitations. The husband contended that the time for the statute of limitations should begin when the spouse knew or should have known of the affair. In rejecting the argument, the Court reasoned that the husband should have perceived a change in the marriage at the time the affair occurred.
Divorce demands attention to detail in every aspect. The law in Mississippi provides for situations—infidelity—in which one spouse believes that the other’s actions or behavior prevents rehabilitation of the relationship. Attorneys who understand the options can offer guidance.