Extraordinary Spousal Claims in Divorce Cases

In a Maryland Divorce case, there are some types of claims that may be raised in addition to the complaint for Divorce and requests for relief typically related to divorce cases. A recently published opinion involving a bigamous husband represents the tip of this legal iceberg for Maryland Divorce Lawyers.

Maryland long ago abolished a cause of action for breach of promise to marry unless a party is pregnant as provided in Family Law Section 3-102. The law is in accordance with the popular notion that an engaged party is entitled to change his or her mind. However, experienced Maryland Divorce Lawyers know that there are aberrant cases in which there may be intentional or negligent misrepresentations related to promises to marry that constitute independent tort causes of action.

Bigamy is an extreme example of circumstances that may give rise to an “independent cause of action” at the time of divorce.

In Bradley v. Bradley, recently decided by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, a woman sued her purported husband for intentional and negligent misrepresentation. During the course of a lengthy extramarital romance, Mr. Bradley told Ms. Bradley that he had divorced his first wife. While most disputes related to a divorce are decided by a judge, not a jury, wife was entitled to a jury trial. Not surprisingly, the jury did not take kindly this egregious deceit. The Baltimore County jury returned a verdict in favor of wife in the amount of $287,000 in compensatory damages, aggregated for the misrepresentation counts and the count for intentional infliction of emotional distress. The jury also awarded $1,000 each for two counts of battery, and $180,000 in punitive damages. The verdict was upheld on appeal because the trial judge, Honorable Kathleen Cox, took pains to weed out those parts of wife’s claims that could properly serve as the basis for misrepresentation actions, and which claims were more appropriately construed as statutorily-barred actions for breach of promise to marry. The record was clear that the trial judge continually parsed the distinction between misrepresentation and breach of promise to marry claims during the trial. This was also done in connection with Ms. Bradley’s claim for intentional infliction of emotional harm. She limited the evidence presented to the jury on this basis.

Bigamy is an extreme example of circumstances that may give rise to an “independent cause of action” at the time of divorce. The more common types of claim include assault, battery and sexual assault. A party, usually a woman who has been subjected to these types of wrongful conduct should raise these issues with her divorce attorney. An experienced trial lawyer will not hesitate to pursue such claims on behalf of a client, after evaluating the available evidence and making a cost-benefit analysis with the client. This includes the potential cost of litigation and prospects of winning and collecting on an award.

Another type of claim that should be evaluated at an initial consultation is a breach of contract in circumstances where the parties have been in business together. This latter situation needs to be considered hand in hand with a party’s right as a spouse under Maryland’s Marital Property Act and laws relating to alimony. As discussed in a previous post, Marital Property is an integral part of an initial consultation.