Ex-spouses seeking to find some personal “closure” after the break-up of their marriage, will likely not find it in an alienation of affection lawsuit against the paramour—despite what you may have heard. Using this type of lawsuit to help heal emotional wounds is just a legal myth in Illinois.
Illinois lawmakers enacted the “Alienation of Affections Act” in order to prevent such abuses. While most laws tend to lay out their elements in a detached and clinical manner, this Act “speaks” to spouses and exes to warn of using the course of action for wrong purposes. It says that the previous remedy for alienation of affection lawsuits had been horribly abused for personal monetary gain and for blackmail. Therefore, the Act limits damages to “actual damages” suffered. Further, the Act says that alienation of affection is not to be used to compensate for shame, humiliation, dishonor, or the like when a spouse cheats.
In interpreting the Alienation of Affection laws in Illinois, the courts have also decided to narrowly construe this cause of action. They have jumped on board the philosophy of preventing abuse, and sent the message that not only are these actions very limited by the damages prohibitions of the Act, but that the courts will also subject a claim to “very close and strict scrutiny” in terms of what is alleged and how it is proven.
To successfully make a claim for alienation of affection, you have to prove three elements—each of which has to pass this tight measure of evaluation. First, the actual love and affection that the cheating ex had for his or her spouse needs to be shown. Clearly this is difficult to accomplish. The only two that really know what the actual level of closeness was during the marriage, are the two that are estranged. It’s pretty unlikely for the ex being sued to be able to recall specifics showing the love and affection.
Another element that has to be shown is the conduct by the paramour that ended the closeness and affection. To satisfy this burden, specific acts or conduct have to be proven that demonstrate the paramour’s “willful intent” to destroy the relationship. It is not enough that the two became involved and it developed into something, or that the ex changed his feelings voluntarily. There needs to be a specific intent by the paramour to act in a manner that would entice the ex and cause the end of the affection.
The third element for a valid claim relates to the Illinois Alienation of Affection Act; there has to be actual damages. The Act is clear that no punitive or exemplary damages are allowed. Also no damages for pain and suffering or emotional distress are allowed. Illinois courts have also denied damage claims for the attorneys’ fees spent in the divorce action, and for loss of the companionship of the relationship.
While it may seem tempting to use the courts to try to punish a cheating ex-spouse and the person he or she cheated with, Illinois law is not going to let that happen so easily. Instead, you may end up paying a lot of money in hourly attorneys’ fees, only to recover a small amount in the courtroom.
If you have any questions about divorce laws in Illinois or would like an attorney referral please contact us at any time. All calls are free and confidential.