First off, what is a tort? Black’s Law Dictionary defines a tort as “A civil wrong, other than breach of contract, for which a remedy may be obtained, usually in the form of damages.” Intentional torts include assault and battery. An example of a negligent tort is an automobile accident.
Marital torts are torts committed by one spouse against another. They, too, can be intentional or negligent. Under New Jersey law, a marital tort claim must be brought in the same action as the divorce, at least initially. As the case progresses, the Court may exercise its discretion to sever the tort action, thereby creating two separate, but parallel cases.
Marital torts can take as many forms as torts committed by strangers. In the most overt form of domestic violence, one can sue a spouse for assault and battery, when an argument turns into punches, a thrown object, or worse.
More subtle forms of torts can also be pursued in court. For example, proving a cause of action for damages under the Battered Woman’s Syndrome may be more difficult than proving a battery because the proofs necessary to show emotional damage are often more subtle than a photo of a black eye or an x-ray of a broken arm. Often, however, emotional injuries are longer lasting and require a longer recovery than a broken limb.
As technology advanced, wiretapping became illegal. Eavesdropping on or recording a spouse’s telephone conversations with another person became illegal, both civilly and criminally. With advances in the digital age, more sophisticated incursions became unlawful as well. The use of spyware, hacking into a spouse’s email account, or accessing a spouse’s browsing history without authorization may constitute illegal interceptions of electronic communications, invasion of privacy, or other federal or state violations.
Often, outside counsel with an expertise in the area of the specific tort type is needed to properly prosecute or defend such claims. Just as often, experts are needed to evaluate the claim, render a report, and testify at trial. Doctors, forensic experts, computer scientists, or other experts, depending on the type tort, may have to be retained to prove the case.
Marital torts are civil wrongs committed by one spouse against the other and are just as entitled to legal redress as torts perpetrated by strangers. Be sure to ask your lawyer questions about this if you believe your spouse has committed a tort against you. Your lawyer will advise you whether what you are concerned about is actually a tort and, if it is, whether it can be proven. This is a complicated, but important, aspect of divorce law. Don’t overlook it. In some cases, the recovery can be meaningful.