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Can You Sue a Cheater for Damages?

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Can You Sue a Cheater for Damages?

These days, not a week goes by without some sort of sexual scandal in the news. Recently, it has focused on allegations of sexual harassment by prominent figures and celebrities but this merely adds to usual crop adultery-scandal coverage that routinely graces the cover of magazines seen while waiting in the check-out line.

I was reminded of an older Family Law decision the other day, which considered the question of whether one person can sue another for cheating on them, or for falsely promising to marry them or have an exclusive relationship with them.

The decision in Lee v. Riley raised exactly this scenario.  The matter came before the court the initially to consider whether the lawsuit actually raised any valid legal claims.  (Under Canadian law, this process serves as a preliminary “screening mechanism” for weeding out those claims adjudged to be entirely without merit, so as not to waste the court’s time (and the taxpayers’ money) on frivolous or otherwise untenable lawsuits.   The prevailing test at the time was whether it is “plain and obvious” that the cause of action cannot succeed.)

In Lee v. Riley the woman had sued the man for what has a rather novel claim.  As the court put it:

The plaintiff [woman] alleges that the defendant [man] failed to advise her that he was involved with another women whom he later married while he was carrying on an intimate relationships with her within a context of an apparent ongoing developing relationship. When she discovered the truth, the [woman] claims that she became ill and has suffered damages. The [woman] asserts a number of causes of action arising out of these facts, including assault, intentional infliction of mental suffering, and fraudulent or negligent misrepresentation.

Although it appeared to have sympathy for the woman, the court dismissed her claim outright, having found no supportable, legal cause of action in her pleadings.  The court wrote:

The [man’s] conduct, as alleged, is morally reprehensible and disgraceful. Nevertheless, the law has never punished either criminally or in civil proceedings, the untruths, half-truths and other inducement which accompany seduction, absent a fraudulent relationship or the presence of a known serious transmittable disease. The [woman] knew who the [man] was and knew the [illegible text] sexual acts being undertaken. The law cannot protect every person against the kind of behaviour the [man[allegedly manifested. Relationships involve risk-taking. People should be honest but it is well known that frequently they are not.

What are your thoughts?  Are there circumstances where the law should recognized a claim in damage by the cheated-on partner?

For the full text of the decision, see:

Lee v. Riley, 2002 CarswellOnt 5558

At Russell Alexander, Family Lawyers our focus is exclusively family law, offering pre-separation legal advice and assisting clients with family related issues including: custody and access, separation agreements, child and spousal support, division of family property, paternity disputes, and enforcement of court orders.  For more information, visit us at RussellAlexander.com