Mistress told to pay wronged wife £6m: U.S. jury uses 19th-century adultery law to punish lover
22nd March 2010
When Cynthia Shackelford's marriage fell apart, it wasn't her husband she dragged into court.
Using a little-known American law, she sued his mistress for stealing him away.
The lawsuit did not win back her cheating husband, but it did give her a measure of revenge after a jury ordered the mistress to pay her the equivalent of £6million.
Mrs Shackelford, 60, said she gave up her teaching career to raise the couple's two children and support 62-year-old husband Allan's legal career.
And she insisted they were still in love when 49-year-old college administrator Anne Lundquist came along.
'I really loved him and I really thought he loved me,' she said. I had not a clue that Allan would wander. He kept telling me, "Oh, she's just a friend. There's no affair. I love you".'
In her lawsuit, the jilted wife also claimed her husband began having the affair before they separated in 2005.
Following a two-day trial in Greensboro, North Carolina, the jury sided with Mrs Shackelford, making the state's highest award for alienation of affection, criminal conversation - legal jargon for adultery - and intentionally or recklessly causing severe emotional distress.
North Carolina remains one of a handful of states which allow married partners to sue someone they believe is responsible for wrecking a marriage.
Mrs Shackelford said her husband met Miss Lundquist while providing legal services for the local Guildford College private school.
She said: 'We would like for people to respect the sanctity of marriage. We wanted a number high enough that it would keep other people from going after married spouses.'
Miss Lundquist said she planned to appeal against the 'ludicrous' judgment.
She lives with Mr Shackelford in Aurora, New York, but insisted the couple met after his marriage had ended. She said: 'The decision is not based on reality. I certainly don't have that kind of money nor will I ever.'
Miss Lundquist, now dean of students at Wells College in Aurora, said she was not given enough notice to prepare for the hearing and was not represented.
'I'm so caught off guard by everything,' she added, saying that finding that kind of money was 'hysterical'.
Although the Shackelfords separated five years ago, their divorce has not been finalised. More than 200 'alienation of affection' cases are filed in North Carolina each year.
The legislation existed in many U.S. states in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but has been abolished in all but North Carolina, Hawaii, Illinois, Mississippi, New Mexico and Utah.
Although action does not require proof of extramarital sex, the wronged spouse must show that a love in a marriage was alienated and destroyed by the defendant's 'malicious conduct'.
Mrs Shackelford's lawyer, Will Jordan, admitted that securing the full £6million would be difficult.
But he said: 'I'm hoping we'll collect a substantial sum.
'In addition to just collecting the judgment, there's a certain amount of validation or vindication that goes with having a jury acknowledge that you were done wrong.'