When I first read this article it did strike me more as the sort of thing you would see as a storyline on Desperate Housewives as much as a real-life report. A scorned wife successfully sues their husband’s mistress for £3.75 million. In the United States of course. But then, when you think of it, in this day and age, it is perhaps surprising that it caught my eye as being something unusual. Hardly anything surprises us these days. Children divorcing parents, football stars scoring with vice girls…
The reported story goes that Dr Lynn Arcara claimed in court that her love rival – and former friend – Susan Pecoraro had stolen her husband away from her while she was pregnant and was awarded $5.8million. She used a centuries-old 'alienation of affection' law to get the cash award, which was based on the amount of money she would have earned if she had remained married to her husband. (Classic quote from the lawyer in court: “She came down and helped my client paint her nursery and in the process she helped herself to my client's husband.”) North Carolina, where the case was heard, apparently deals with up to 200 cases a year under the obscure law and is one of seven US states to have it on their statute books.
Now in a country where you can sue anyone for everything with a fair chance of success, this actually strikes me as one of the more logical cases for litigious types. At very least, it gives the wronged wife two cracks of the whip (so to speak) in terms of getting payback. And for the mistress, it means a double whammy hanging over them: exposure as a harlot and financial ruin. Being exposed doesn’t seem to put many people off but I suspect in many cases the financial pitfalls (if they do indeed have something to lose) could be more of a deterrent.
I did a bit of digging and have to say I have not been able to find anything like this in the UK so there is no case law to go on. Not that I want to open the flood gates on this or be the man who introduced “suing the mistress” to the country, but I am intrigued. Has anyone else come across a case like this? I would be interested to hear about it.
In theory, it might be possible to sue as marriage is a contract and there are some laws around not encouraging people to break one – but I guess that is really designed with commercial contracts in mind and the UK courts might not stand for attempts by some legal whizz kid to argue that marriage is just such a contract, no matter how much money was involved. It would be an interesting case though, wouldn’t it?!