Alienation of Affections

By Jed McKeehan

You may have heard of the legal term, “alienation of affections,” at some point, but what does this phrase mean?

The dictionary definition states, “the diversion of a person’s affection from someone (as a spouse) who has certain rights or claims to such affection usually to a third person who is held to be the instigator or cause of the diversion. NOTE: In most jurisdictions alienation of affection is no longer recognized.”

Really what we are talking about is, can you sue someone who is having intimate relations with your spouse and breaking up your marriage? As the dictionary definition notes, most states do not recognize this anymore. Tennessee Code Annotated section 36-3-701, which was made into law in 1989, even says so, stating, “The common law tort action of alienation of affections is hereby abolished.”

Interestingly enough, there are still six states where you can sue someone for breaking up your marriage. Those states are North Carolina, New Mexico, South Dakota, Utah, Hawaii, and Mississippi.

While I am very sorry that someone has started a relationship with your spouse and broken up your marriage, you have no legal recourse against them in Tennessee for doing such.


Jedidiah McKeehan is an attorney practicing in Knox County and surrounding counties.  He works in many areas, including family law, criminal, and personal injury. Visit for more information about this legal issue and other legal issues.