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Sue the cuckolder elsewhere

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.

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  • ken cooper

    Sorry Greg, wrong use of cuckold. By example, if your wife cheated on you you would be the cuckold. What cause of action would someone have against you?

    • Cuckold is the person who is being cheated upon. Cuckolder is sometimes defined as the person doing the cheating. Actually cuckolder is more frequently used as a synonym for cuckold but folks often don’t used terms correctly nowadays and I wanted a catchy term in my blog title.

      • So how would the cuckolder (the cheating spouse) wind up the defendant in an alienation of affection lawsuit (hence your title)? Isn’t the defendant in such an action the person the cuckholder is/was having sex with?

        • Again it’s a terminology issue. Cuckolder isn’t the cheating spouse. It’s the third-party who’s doing (pun intended) the cheater.

          • I’ve actually never seen “cuckolder” used, but I was going by your definition above: “Cuckolder is sometimes defined as the person doing the cheating.” The person “doing the cheating” is the cheating spouse, no?

          • Gary,

            Come up with a better (and unwieldy) term for the cheating third-party and I will substitute it.

  • Stephen Fowler

    A word that doesn’t get enough use. If you’re driving out to Walterboro be on the lookout for the road sign leading the way to Cuckold Landing. I get a good laugh every time I drive by.

  • Cuckolder. What an interesting word. I wonder what its origins are.

    • Per Wikipedia:

      Cuckold derives from the cuckoo bird, alluding to the alleged habit of the female in changing its mate frequently and authentic (in some species) practice of laying its eggs in other nests within its community. The association is common in medieval folklore, literature, and iconography. The original old English was “kukewold”. It was borrowed from Old French “cuccault”, which was made up of “cuccu” (old French for the cuckoo bird itself) plus the pejorative suffix – “ault”, indicating the named person was being taken advantage of as by a cuckoo bird.

      English usage first appears about 1250 in the satirical and polemical poem “The Owl and the Nightingale” (l. 1544). The term was clearly regarded as embarrassingly direct, as evident in John Lydgate’s “Fall of Princes” (ca. 1440). In the late 14th century, the term also appeared in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Miller’s Tale. Shakespeare’s poetry often referenced cuckolds, with several of his characters suspected they had become one.

      The female equivalent cuckquean first appears in English literature in 1562, adding a female suffix to the “cuck”. One often overlooked subtlety of the word is that it implies that the husband is deceived, that he is unaware of his wife’s unfaithfulness and may not know until the arrival or growth of a child plainly not his (as with Cuckoo birds.) Another word, wittol, which substitutes “wete” (meaning witting or knowing) for the first part of the word, designates a man aware of and reconciled to his wife’s infidelity and first appears in 1520

  • Linda

    Interesting that they will give full faith and credit to another state’s judgment even if it is against our public policy (as well, they should), but not to marriages contracted in other states….another move in that direction, perhaps…

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