Anna leni via Getty
If someone cheats on you, that sucks. In such a scenario, you might feel really bad and then think, How can I make them feel bad, too? This is what is known as “revenge,” and it’s tempting but rarely worth it.
Clearly, nobody told that to the guy in North Carolina who just successfully sued the ass out of his ex-wife’s lover, thanks to a fucked-up law in the state. The man, Robert Kevin Howard, won $750,000 in damages on Aug. 19 from Greg (of course it’s a Greg) Jernigan, after finding out that Jernigan had been porking his wife for months.
Also known as a “heart balm” tort or “homewrecker” law, these lawsuits allow scorned spouses to basically collect a ton of money for having their hearts broken. North Carolina and six other states (Hawaii, Illinois, New Mexico, Mississippi, South Dakota, and Utah) still have such laws in the books. Unsurprisingly, they are rooted in the idea that a wife is her husband’s property, therefore he can sue anyone who “steals” her from him. Because these laws technically have nothing to do with sex, that includes family members who, say, encourage one partner to leave. You could also file one of these puppies for an emotional affair (please don’t do any of this).
Many attorneys have criticized the existence of these torts because they effectively put all of a couple’s dirtiest laundry on public record, and can wreck the defendant’s financial life. Also, being this level of petty is an investment. While Howard’s attorney wouldn’t say how much he sunk into this spectacle, attorneys familiar with these suits estimated he paid somewhere between $10,00 and $75,000. This is a shitton of money, especially considering that Howard told the Washington Post he doesn’t really intend to collect the $750k from Jernigan; this was more of a symbolic fight to make a point about the sanctity of marriage.
Ok, my man. Being cheated on by your life partner seems bad, but putting on an expensive dog and pony show just to prove a point about...morals?? And the sanctity of marriage??? Dude, I’m just not buyin’ it! I like “morals” just as much as the next guy, but I would not sink myself $10-75k in the hole just to show that off. I don’t know much about any of the people involved here (aside from what is now detailed in public court documents, that, theoretically, their two children will be able to see), but something to consider: Perhaps the sort of person who would use a sexist tort to invoke vengeance on their former spouse is also the sort of person you might feel compelled to leave…. via cheating….? (Cheating is not nice, don’t do it, but lawsuits aren’t nice either!)
There are lots of other things to spend that much money on. I’m not the boss of how strangers use their cash, so I’ll just leave some suggestions here, in case anyone arrived at this blog by searching “should I sue the shit out of my cheating wife”: Take a long, solo vacation; buy a new car; buy a small plot of land and build a nice park on it; adopt a dozen good dogs; book a lot of therapy appointments; etc. These are just a few options! Don’t sue.
Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.
Follow Hannah Smothers on Twitter.