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Insights into North Carolina Family Law from a High-Profile Affair Case

On Behalf of | May 9, 2024 | Alienation of Affection

A 2020 high profile lawsuit filed by this firm against State Senator Rick Gunn alleged that he played a pivotal role in the dissolution of his legislative assistant’s marriage. The two sides settled the case in 2021 for an undisclosed amount in favor of plaintiff Arthur Johns, the husband. Senator Gunn was a political staple for five terms as a Burlington Republican. Although this case received extensive news coverage because of the parties involved, there are a number of different things from this case that shed light on the divorce laws in North Carolina.

Alienation of affection vs. Criminal conversation

The lawsuit’s initial announcement came a few months after the Johns’ divorce. The allegations against Senator Gunn were ‘alienation of affection‘ and ‘criminal conversation’—terms that may sound outdated but are very much alive in the legal system of North Carolina. North Carolina is one of the few states that still recognize this cause of action. This law allows a spouse to sue a third party who they believe is responsible for the failure of their marriage. Despite attempts to amend the law, it remains a tool for seeking damages for marital interference.

Criminal conversation is often confused with alienation of affection, but they are distinct claims. Alienation of affection is a lawsuit against a third party accused of willfully and maliciously interfering with the marital relationship, causing the love and affection between the spouses to erode or disappear. On the other hand, criminal conversation is more specifically about the act of sexual intercourse with someone’s spouse.

The lawsuit did not dispute the consensuality of the relationship between Karen Johns and Senator Gunn. Still, the implications of such a relationship, consensual or not, were at the core of the legal battle. The plaintiff, in this case, Arthur Johns, claims that Sen. Gunn’s relationship with his wife led to the disintegration of their marriage and is seeking compensation for damages.

Diving into the details of an alienation of affection lawsuit

The narrative of the lawsuit paints a picture of a once strong and loving marriage, with two children and a stepchild who all saw Arthur Johns as a father figure. The legal documents suggest that the family’s dynamic and financial stability began to crumble with Senator Gunn’s alleged involvement. Karen Johns, who worked in the legislature since 2011, was said to have been under pressure to be readily available for Senator Gunn beyond regular office hours, including travel and attending social events. The suit alleges that this arrangement laid the groundwork for the affair.

The legal documents also detail how Arthur Johns believes the affair took a toll on him, physically, mentally and emotionally. The affair caused distress and hurt Arthur Johns’ professional life. He claims that it tarnished his reputation, and he faced humiliation due to the actions of Senator Gunn, which he alleges were facilitated by the power dynamics at play within Gunn’s office.

Personal boundaries and privacy during divorce proceedings

The involvement of Arthur Johns’ attorney, Richard Gantt, also provides insight into how sensitive information is handled legally. Gantt provided an email chain to building security that depicted Johns as “visibly upset,” and although it mentioned past domestic violence, it noted that no formal complaints had been filed. This brings up questions about personal privacy, the role of legal counsel in protecting clients’ interests, and the delicate balance between security and individual rights.

Financial damage and seeking justice after a spousal affair

This case offers a view into the financial repercussions of divorce. Arthur Johns claims that the affair not only destroyed his marriage but has also led to him losing half of his property in the ensuing divorce settlement. The lawsuit outlined a range of damages that Arthur Johns estimates between $30,000 and $1 million. This figure reflects the profoundly personal and financial impact Johns believes the affair had on his life. Pursuing this lawsuit is his attempt to seek justice and compensation for the alleged betrayal and its repercussions. This specific amount and estimate further underlines the importance of understanding marital property laws and how assets are divided upon divorce in North Carolina, which follows the equitable distribution model.