Heart-Balm Acts and Digna v. Fernandez

The end of a marriage or separation is a very emotional time. This can be especially true where one person has been unfaithful. It is quite common in these circumstances for the wronged spouse to feel like the new boyfriend or girlfriend should somehow be held accountable for breaking up the marriage. However, New Jersey has passed what is called a “Heart Balm Act” to prevent exactly this type of law suit.

New Jersey 2A:23-1, et seq., make it no longer possible to sue someone to recover money for the reason of adultery or alienation of affection. In fact, even the threat of serving papers on someone for this type of action is barred by the statute. The way this law is applied will prevent, for example, a husband from suing a wife’s new boyfriend for the purpose of recovering money for the sole reason the boyfriend came between the husband and the wife. However, the Heart Balm Act has been applied in such a way that outside parties have been held responsible for accelerating the end of a marriage. For example, in 1950 a court found that the Heart Balm Act did not prevent a wife from bringing a suit for defamation against people who convinced her husband that she was committing adultery.

In Digna v. Fernandez, the court encountered another situation in which the wife sought to invoke the Heart Balm Act to prevent a husband for bringing a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. There, the husband sought to recover damages against his former wife and the maternal grandparents, as they alleged the father had sexually abused the couple’s children. The father alleged the mother and the grandparents told the children that they are in danger of being sexually abused at the father’s home, as well as told psychiatrists and court attorneys that the father had molested the children in the past. The former wife and her parents asked the court to dismiss the father’s claim, as his claim was essentially claiming they “alienated the affection” of the children, and therefore should be barred. The court disagreed, determining that the Heart Balm Act was not applicable to this type of situation and allowed the father to proceed.

Divorce cases can involve many emotional complications and we are experienced in helping our clients with these issues. Contact us today at 732-529-6937 to make an appointment to talk about your case and how we can move your divorce forward.
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