At one time, marital vows claiming “two become one” were reflected in New Jersey family laws. Spousal unity created interspousal immunity. It was impossible for one spouse to sue the other for damages until courts in the last half of the 20th century recognized marital torts.
Harmful actions include emotional abuse, invasion of privacy and physical or sexual violence, plus other claims. A civil complaint also may be filed against a spouse, who infected a husband or wife with a sexually transmitted disease.
Marital torts and divorces are separate legal actions, although the two are sometimes bound in court.
Under New Jersey’s entire controversy doctrine, a marital tort must be addressed during divorce. A damage award — the possible result of an injury claim — has a direct impact upon the division of marital assets. A time limit or statute of limitations is set on how long an ex-spouse has to file a claim after a marital injury takes place.
Compensation for negligent, reckless or purposeful actions is sought in marital torts. As with other liability claims, the plaintiff or accuser is responsible for proving a claim is true. In instances when courts agree a spouse’s behavior was egregious, additional punitive damages are awarded.
If you are planning to divorce, it is advisable to speak with a family law attorney about issues like physical or emotional domestic abuse and other forms of marital harm you’ve experienced. In some cases, a lawyer may suggest taking civil or even criminal actions against a spouse.
Marital torts are not applicable during or after every divorce. A spouse may feel a very strong urge to take a partner to court for being unfaithful, but a court may not equate hurt feelings – no matter how intense they are – with abuse. Contact an attorney to understand the meaning of justifiable marital injuries and for guidance in how to proceed.
Source: The Huffington Post, “Beyond Divorce: The Surprising Reasons Why Some Spouses Sue Each Other” Bari Zell Weinberger, Jan. 06, 2015