Award to former spouse in alienation of affection lawsuit is a North Carolina Record
Raleigh Divorce Lawyer / Partner Stephanie Jenkins of the Raleigh-based divorce and family lawyers Gailor, Wallis & Hunt has won a $30 million verdict in an alienation of affection lawsuit-a record for North Carolina.
The award, handed down by Superior Court Judge Carl Fox on March 14, represents a decisive victory for Jenkins and her client, Carol Puryear. It is the largest alienation of affection verdict in North Carolina history, comprising $10 million in compensatory damages and $20 million in punitive damages.
Alienation of affection-in which the plaintiff alleges that a third party maliciously acted to destroy his or her marriage-is a relatively rare cause of action, with North Carolina one of just a handful of jurisdictions that allow it. The cases are particularly difficult to win, too, because the deserted spouse must show that there was genuine love and affection in the relationship before the third party became involved, and that the defendant’s own conduct caused or was the major contributor to the destruction of the marriage.
According to court documents, Judge Fox’s decision holds part-time Wilmington resident, Betty Devin-current wife of Carol Puryear’s ex-husband, Donald-liable for the $30 million judgment. Carol and Donald Puryear were divorced in 2009 after a 15-year marriage. Devin’s relationship with Donald Puryear began during that marriage. It was not in dispute, says Jenkins, that Devin knew he was married and had a young son.
The $30 million verdict ended an unusual case in which Devin initially participated-filing an answer and counterclaim shortly after the case began in 2009-and then suddenly stopped taking part. Jenkins and her colleagues at Gailor, Wallis & Hunt filed numerous motions inviting Devin’s participation in the lawsuit and Judge Fox issued an order that Devin appear in court on January 31, 2011, or be held in contempt; however, Devin never made a personal appearance in the courtroom. Ultimately as shown in the court records, Judge Fox issued a default judgment in Carol Puryear’s favor.
While the judgment sets a record for a North Carolina alienation of affection case, multimillion-dollar verdicts have occurred before in the state, demonstrating the enormous harm that such behavior can cause. Compensatory damages can include pain and suffering, public humiliation, loss of standing in the community, and loss of income and lifestyle-all of which accrued in this case, according to Jenkins and court record.
Along with the alienation of affection action, the court documents state a criminal conversation claim was also brought against Devin. A strict liability tort, it deems a defendant automatically guilty if extramarital sex is proven.
But more important than the verdict’s amount, says Jenkins, is the message it sends: “For my client, this wasn’t about money. This was about having the defendant held accountable for her actions, which even the judge called egregious. People don’t get to do this to other people and get away with it.”
About Gailor, Wallis & Hunt
Founded in 1994, Gailor, Wallis & Hunt, PLLC, is one of North Carolina’s most accomplished and recognized family law firms. Their dedication and experience in all aspects of divorce, child custody, child support, alimony, prenuptial agreements and property distribution have made them an invaluable resource-and partner-for North Carolina residents enduring the emotional and financial stress of separation and divorce.
Case number: 09 CVS 0825
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