Wednesday, March 24, 2010
A North Carolina jury last week awarded a wife a $9 million judgment against her husband's mistress, a relatively rare alienation of affections award likely to be appealed.
Cynthia Shackelford's story could have been no different than that of any other aggrieved wife: The North Carolina woman, 60, thought her husband Allan was deeply in love with her. Then came his late nights at the office and suspicious charges on his credit card and cell phone bills. And finally, a private investigator confirmed what she had feared: Her husband, she said, was having an affair.
But Shackelford's story has a $9 million twist. Under centuries-old North Carolina case law, Shackelford sued her husband's alleged mistress, Anne Lundquist, for "alienation of affection," charging that the woman broke up her 33-year marriage.
Last week, Shackelford won. A jury awarded her $5 million in compensatory damages and $4 million in punitive damages to be paid by Lundquist.
A former teacher, Shackelford said she gave up that career to raise the couple's two children and now, at 60, her job options are limited.
Shackelford's lawyer, William Jordan, said her husband was ordered to pay her $5,000 a month in alimony, but he has yet to do so. That may be part of the reason that the jury in last week's case, Jordan said, opted to provide his client such a large award.
But it's unclear whether Cynthia Shackelford will ever see any of the $9 million she's now owed by Lundquist. Lundquist, who did not appear at last week's trial, told The Greensboro News & Record that she plans to appeal the case.
"I'm so caught off guard by everything," she said. "I don't have a lot of money, so where this $9 million comes from is kind of hysterical."
Scant funds by alleged cheaters is one reason why many North Carolina alienation of affection claims never make it to court, Rosen said.
"They're not worth suing most of the time," he said. "For this to really work out, you've got to have a paramour [who] has substantial assets."
Cynthia Shackelford, who owes tens of thousands of dollars in legal bills, said she hopes to recover at least some money from Lundquist.
But she said she's also focused on something more intangible -- spreading awareness about the harm posed by adultery.
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