Cheated-upon spouses occasionally inquire whether they can sue the other man (or woman) for breaking up their marriage. In South Carolina the answer is no: in 1992 the South Carolina South Carolina eliminated causes of action for alienation of affections and criminal conversation. Russo v. Sutton, 310 S.C. 200, 422 S.E.2d 750 (1992).
An August 7, 2013 South Carolina Supreme Court decision in Widenhouse v. Colson, 405 S.C. 55, 747 S.E.2d 188 (2013), raises the possibility of South Carolina residents obtaining enforceable money judgments from folks who break up their marriage if (some of) the adultery took place in a state that still recognizes these causes of action.
Widenhouse sued Colson in North Carolina for alienation of affections and criminal conversation, where these causes of action still exist. Judgment was entered for Widenhouse in the sum of $266,000 plus interest and costs. She filed a notice of foreign judgment with the Greenville County clerk of court. Colson moved for relief, arguing that Widenhouse’s judgment was not entitled to full faith and credit because the causes of action of alienation of affections and criminal conversation are contrary to South Carolina public policy. Widenhouse moved to enforce the foreign judgment. The circuit court denied Colson’s motion and granted Widenhouse’s motion. Colson appealed.
The Supreme Court determined that the United States Constitution’s full faith and credit clause requires one state to honor another state’s money judgments even if the foreign judgment is based on claims which are contrary to the public policies of this State. It based this decision on previous United States Supreme Court opinions holding that no public policy exception to the full faith and credit clause exists where a civil dispute has been reduced to a money judgment. See e.g., Magnolia Petroleum Co. v. Hunt, 320 U.S. 430, 438 (1943). Accordingly, the South Carolina Supreme Court upheld registration and enforcement of a North Carolina judgment for a cause of action that South Carolina no longer recognizes.
The Widenhouse decision means that if your South Carolina spouse is committing adultery in a state that still recognizes causes of action for alienation of affections and criminal conversation, you can sue the cuckolder in that state and enforce the judgment in South Carolina.