Heart Balm Acts

(redirected from Alienation of Affection and Criminal Conversation)

Heart Balm Acts

Statutes that abrogate or restrict lawsuits brought by individuals who seek pecuniary damages to salve their broken hearts.

Heart balm actions are founded on the precept that the law disfavors any intrusion with the marital relationship or family ties. Such suits include actions for Breach of Marriage Promise, alienation of affection, criminal conversation, and seduction.

Breach of Marriage Promise

Breach of promise actions are based on the theory that a promise made should be kept. A subscription to this principle, however, defeats the purpose of the engagement period prior to marriage that is designed to determine whether or not the couple is sufficiently compatible to get married. In certain situations, however, one party might take advantage of the other, as where a woman becomes engaged to a man merely for the purpose of gaining access to substantial wealth. In such cases, breach of promise actions can be utilized to compensate the individual who has been injured from such a relationship.

A number of states, however, have eliminated breach of marriage promise suits.

Alienation of Affection and Criminal Conversation

A legal action may be brought against an individual who intrudes upon a marital relationship. Alienation of affection means interfering in such manner as to win away the love of a husband or wife from his or her spouse.

Criminal conversation is Adultery. Conversation is used to mean sexual relations in this context. These actions were designed to protect the sanctity of marriage and the family relationship. Today, suits for alienation of affection and criminal conversation have been abolished in most states.


The right to sue for seduction belonged to a father who could bring an action against a man who had sexual relations with his daughter.

At Common Law, the daughter did not ordinarily have the right to sue on her own behalf. A woman who was seduced by a marriage promise could sue for breach of promise if the marriage did not take place. If she became sexually involved with a man due to force or duress, she might be able to bring action for rape or assault. The general rule was, however, that regardless of whether the woman was an adult or a minor, her seduction was regarded as an injury to her father.

In early cases, a father was permitted to be awarded pecuniary damages only as compensation for services that he lost as a result of the seduction. Subsequently, fathers were also allowed to recover Compensatory Damages for medical expenses, as well as damages for distress or sorrow.

Seduction suits are very seldom brought in modern times and have been abolished by some states. One of the primary reasons for this is that they publicize the individual's humiliation.

Limitations on Heart Balm Actions

A majority of judges and legal scholars are in agreement that all heart balm suits should be eliminated. Most states have enacted heart balm statutes that place limitations upon the amount of recovery. The abolition of heart balm suits does not, however, prevent either individual from recovering gifts made in contemplation of marriage. Many states have ruled that gifts, such as engagement rings, must be recovered if the promise to marry is revoked.

Mentioned in ?
References in periodicals archive ?
However, even these costs can pale in comparison to the tort liability facing the adulterous spouse's paramour in states where the torts of alienation of affection and criminal conversation still exist.
8) These awards often withstand appellate review and as recently as (2014) a state appellate court affirmed a verdict for $9 million in compensatory and punitive damages for alienation of affection and criminal conversation.
18) In one case, the North Carolina Court of Appeals affirmed damages for alienation of affection and criminal conversation "awarding] $1.
A tort of marital interference could replace alienation of affection and criminal conversation, serving the same interests without running afoul of the Constitution.
Alienation of affection and criminal conversation grew out of the belief that a husband owned his wife and was entitled to compensation for a lost property interest in her sexual fidelity.
82) Three potential bases could explain how alienation of affection and criminal conversation constitute state action: 1) statutory enabling of the torts as state action, 2) Supreme Court precedent on private civil actions as state action, or 3) punitive damages as state action.
In some states, statutes validate or define the common-law actions of alienation of affection and criminal conversation.
Some may argue that the constitutional analysis of punitive-damage awards in alienation of affection and criminal conversation should be limited to their possible excessiveness in light of the Gore/State Farm standard.
216) Second, even if it is a permissible argument, alienation of affection and criminal conversation also punish the interloper, who is not party to the contract.
Existing tort frameworks suggest an alternative to alienation of affection and criminal conversation that may hew more closely to the interests that these torts claim to serve.
Expanding this argument to interpret alienation of affection and criminal conversation as examples of a Lawrence-type desuetude necessitating abolition or constraint requires an evaluation of when this desuetude analysis would "be triggered.
281) Proponents of the two torts point out that damages in alienation of affection and criminal conversation turn on many of the same issues as loss-of-consortium claims.