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Amended Law Ends Alienation of Affection and Other Heart Balm Actions

alienation of affection, heart balm, St. Charles family lawyersOn many social and criminal issues, the state of Illinois is often seen as relatively progressive, taking what may be considered a more liberal approach toward such concerns as gun control, minimum wage laws, and marital rights. For this reason, it may come as surprise to know that, up until this year, Illinois law still permitted so-called “heart balm” lawsuits related to marriage and divorce. Along with the major changes to the law that updated the state’s approach to divorce, child custody, and other family concerns, the family law reform measure that was passed last summer also eliminated virtually all potential heart balm actions as well.

What Are Heart Balm Suits?

For many years, an individual could file a separate civil lawsuit seeking monetary damages for actions or losses that related to his or her marital or personal relationships. Such suits were often filed in attempt to ease the pain and difficulty of a broken relationship, earning them the nickname “heart balm” lawsuits. Unfortunately, however, many heart balm suits were filed simply out of spite, and caused legal proceedings to drag on unnecessarily.

The new law eliminated three previously-permitted actions, two of which could be filed against a third party and were sometimes known as “home-wrecker” suits. Prior to the change, a spouse could file a claim against a third party for alienation of affection or criminal conversation (adultery). Alienation of affection suits were based on the grounds that the third party willfully and maliciously interfered with the marriage, stealing the spouse’s affections away from the claimant. Closely related to alienation of affection was a suit on the grounds of criminal conversation. Despite its ominous name, criminal conversation simply meant adultery, and a spouse was permitted to seek civil damages from the third party upon proving adultery took place.

The third type of heart balm action eliminated under the new law was a suit between the parties to the relationship on the grounds of a breach of promise to marry. This type of suit could previously be filed by one party against his or her (former) partner to recover actual damages associated with a broken engagement. Such actions could not only include wedding-related expenses and costs incurred in anticipation of the marriage, but also which party should have the right to keep “conditional gifts” such as an engagement ring.

Cultural Changes

Before the changes took effect on January 1, 2016, Illinois was one of only a few states that still allowed these types of lawsuits. Lawmakers, however, realized that most heart balm actions were based on the concept that a man’s spouse was his property, and allowing them to continue contributed to the legal inequality between men and women. The state also recognized that the amicable settlement of a divorce proceeding is preferable, “mitigating the potential harm to the spouses and their children by the process of legal dissolution of marriage.” Years ago, marital misconduct was eliminated as a consideration for most parts of the divorce process, yet heart balm actions were allowed to persist. The recently-enacted law found that permitting such suits was inconsistent with the state’s public policy.

Contact a Lawyer

Even without the possibility of heart-balm actions or similar lawsuits, divorce can be extremely complicated. That is why it is important to enlist the assistance of an experienced Kane County family law attorney. Call 630-377-7770 to schedule your free initial consultation today at Bochte, Kuzniar & Navigato, P.C..

 

Sources:

http://www.isba.org/ibj/2015/07/lawpulse/familylawrewritegoesgovernor

http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/publicacts/99/PDF/099-0090.pdf

https://www.isba.org/sections/familylaw/newsletter/2011/06/brokenengagements

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