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Pregaming an (Admittedly Hypothetical) Elizabeth Edwards Suit

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  • Pregaming an (Admittedly Hypothetical) Elizabeth Edwards Suit

    If the John Edwards saga, currently unfolding in front of the nation’s eyes, were not really happening, but instead was a Hollywood creation, we’d imagine it’d bet panned by critics for being too fanciful, too outlandish.*

    The details contained in the book written by Andrew Young, Edwards’s former campaign aide, are weird enough. But since then, the floodgates have opened. Edwards acknowledged he’s the baby’s father. Edwards and his wife, Elizabeth (pictured), legally separated. There are tales of an Edwards/Hunter sex tape. Edwards recently reportedly asked Hunter to marry him.

    The latest: According to Young, Elizabeth Edwards threatened to sue him for allegedly breaking up her marriage to John.

    The rumored lawsuit hasn’t happened yet, to our knowledge. But it got us wondering: is there a tort that allows someone to sue for breaking up a marriage?

    Yes, as it turns out. Seven states, including North Carolina, have on the books an “alienation of affection” tort which, it seems, allows someone to sue someone else for, well, breaking up a marriage.

    We wanted more on this, so we called up Lee Rosen, a divorce lawyer in Charlotte, for more information. Here’s how it went:

    Hi Lee. Thanks for taking the time. So tell us about this “alienation of affection tort.”

    Well, yeah, we’re one of seven states that have it. It’s a tort for which you can recover compensatory and punitive damages. We actually have a history of fairly high awards made by juries.

    What does a plaintiff have to show to win?

    A plaintiff generally has to show that there was a marriage filled with love, and that love and marriage was maliciously destroyed by the defendant.

    Normally, these suits take the form of spouse versus paramour. So were Elizabeth Edwards to file suit here, it would provide an unusual set of facts. She’d be filing against someone who wasn’t a paramour.

    We get a lot of questions from people looking to sue a a company that facilitated a relationship between a spouse and someone else at work — like, for instance, if a company knew a relationship was going on and it continued sending the couple on business trips together. But we haven’t seen too many like this.

    What might Elizabeth Edwards have to show if she did sue?

    She’d likely have to show that Andrew Young went out of his way to damage the marriage between Elizabeth and John. There’s an element of maliciousness to it that needs to be there.

    But my understanding is he took the actions he did to try to save the campaign? That that was his prime motivation.

    Right. He might have been the biggest advocate of the marriage, after all.

    I think it’d be a really tough thing for Elizabeth to prove and, frankly, I’d be surprised that after she sits down and puts on her rational lawyer hat, she goes ahead with something like this. I think juries would be sympathetic to Elizabeth — she’s a scorned spouse suffering from cancer — but my guess is that a jury would want to take out its hostility on John, not Andrew Young. I bet they’d see her anger as misplaced.

    Very good. Thanks for taking the time.

    No problem.

    * While we’re on the topic, let’s do a little casting of the hypothetical John Edwards/Rielle Hunter movie. In our minds, Jack McBrayer plays John; Megan Mullally plays Elizabeth; Justin Theroux plays Andrew Young; and Holly Hunter plays, well, Rielle Hunter.

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