It almost goes without saying that the events and circumstances that lead a couple to divorce are typically not very pleasant ones. Your spouse may have cheated on you. The two of you may have endured tense disagreements over marital finances, or fights about how to raise your children.
In some situations, however, the wounds suffered during the process of marital breakdown go far beyond normal feelings of betrayal and enter the legal territory of a court claim called a marital tort.
A martial tort — or “marital wrong” — is defined as an intentional, negligent or reckless act carried out by one spouse against the other that results in physical or emotional injuries, including injuries to property.
One of the most common forms of martial tort? Infecting a spouse with a sexually transmitted disease, including chlamydia, gonorrhea, gentile herpes, HIV/AIDS, HPV, syphilis or some other STD/STI. Other harmful and egregious acts that fall into the category of marital tort include physical assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, “Battered Wife Syndrome,” marital rape, invasion of privacy and wiretapping. If one or more of these grounds are believed to exist, the victimized spouse can choose to file a martial tort claim. If the courts finds marital tort occurred, the victimized spouse is then awarded damages, usually in the form of a monetary settlement.
If you have never heard of marital tort before, it may be because the ability for spouses to sue each other for the transmission of a STD and other wrongs is a relatively new phenomenon. In the past, husbands and wives were unable to take action on these kinds of issues, mainly due to the centuries-old notion that wives were “property” of their husbands. Legally, this was known as the concept of inter-spousal immunity.
Marital tort cases first emerged as viable in 1961 when the New Jersey courts, in Orr vs. Orr, declared the notion of “inter-spousal immunity” to be an outdated concept. Other cases followed, culminating with the 1979 Supreme Court case of Tevis v. Tevis that helped define marital tort. (This is why marital tort cases are also referred to as Tevis Claims.)
In New Jersey, marital tort cases are generally filed at the same time the couple seeks a divorce. The rationale for this is that any awarded damages can simply be pulled from the guilty spouse’s asset column. In some cases, criminal charges can be pressed at the same time, which may be appropriate in the context of sexual violence and domestic assault and battery.
Just how much in damages can be compensated in damages for STDs? In one recent case, the courts awarded $125,000 to a divorced wife who claimed that her former husband had transmitted herpes simplex virus type II (genital herpes) during marriage.
If you are considering moving forward with a marital tort claim, expect a high level of judicial scrutiny when it comes to examining the evidence for the claim. Consulting with an attorney experienced in marital tort claims is in your best interest. For a confidential analysis of your matter, please contact us to schedule your initial attorney consultation.