Wife's lover fined R11 million by a court for causing her divorce, here's what SA law says about suing your spouse for adultery

Illustration. Photographer: LaylaBird
Illustration. Photographer: LaylaBird

Infidelity in a relationship can cause a lot of harm. According to Rosie Shrout and Daniel Weigel in their study titled Infidelity’s Aftermath: Appraisals, Mental Health, and Health-compromising Behaviours Following a Partner’s Infidelity, it can also lead to a lot of blame.

Robert Kevin Howard, an American from North Carolina, was married to Julie George Howard (now Julie Kendall George) for 12 years. Julie cheated on him with her co-worker, who he sued for millions. Robert was shocked to find out about Julie's infidelity though she had previously mentioned that she no longer wished to remain married to him. 

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"She had originally told me that she wanted a divorce because I work too much, wasn't around to be there and I worked too much. I talked about that as part of my mistake in the situation, but it was like a punch in the gut because I thought I had this trust for 12 years and love," Robert told WITN.

Julie met Greg Jernigan, a mentor she eventually cheated on her husband with, when she was assigned to work with him in 2016. At the time she was a first-year teacher, and upon giving him a lift one day, they became close friends and their friendship soon became romantic.

When Robert found out about the affair he confronted Julie about it and she confessed, which lead to them getting divorced.

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According to The Washington Post Robert sued Greg for being the third party that broke a home and alienation of affection (causing the loss of affection between a married couple) and criminal conversation (the act of having sex with someone’s spouse).

The court ruled in Robert’s favour and won him a judgment of $750,000 (almost R11 million). Greg was ordered to pay the amount within a stipulated period or it will become debt owed and appear on his credit report.

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Extramarital affairs are unlawful when they lead to divorce in North Carolina and six other United States jurisdictions. In South Africa one cannot sue for adultery, however, courts are at liberty to decide on other actions related to the breakdown of a marriage.

Specialist family law attorney Riva Lange, from Riva Lange Attorneys explains, “The Supreme Court of Appeal on 25 September 2014, in the case of RH v DE of 2013, abolished the delictual action based on adultery. However the court made it clear that it was leaving open for decision at a later date and by another court ‘other actions based on the actio iniuriarum (action for delict which seeks to protect an individual's dignity, reputation and physical integrity) which relate or are connected to the institution of marriage, such as the action for abduction, enticement and harbouring of someone’s spouse,’” Riva says.

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The judge in this particular case noted: “I leave the sustainability of their (other delictual actions relating to marriage) continued existence as the subject of consideration for another day... the continued existence of the claim against a third party, based on adultery, for the patrimonial harm suffered by the innocent spouse through the loss of consortium of the adulterous spouse, which would include, for example, the loss of supervision over the household and children”. 

Registered counsellor Phumzile Ndlovu, identifies the impact of infidelity in the following areas:

Emotional The individual who was cheated on may experience various emotional responses such as feelings of betrayal, anger, hurt, grief, sadness, disappointment, resentment, rejection, depression, humiliation, disrespect, embarrassed, shattered, rage, jealousy, insecure and devastated.

Physical - There may be changes in appetite, headaches, disturbances in sleeping patterns, tense muscles, stomach aches, nausea, feeling exhausted physically and emotionally, irritability and increased anxiety.

Relationships (family, friends and future romantic relationships) - The individual may withdraw or isolate themselves socially due to feelings of shame, embarrassment, and fear of being judged.

They could find it hard to trust people around them due to the fear of getting hurt. If there are children involved, they could feel a sense of self-blame or feelings of being scared, anxious and betrayed.

Have you ever been betrayed in a relationship? Were you responsible for betraying a partner? Share your thoughts with us here.

Sources: WITNThe Washington Post.

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