Kevin Howard was devastated when his wife of 12 years told him she wanted to separate.
“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to face â€” it was like someone calling you and telling you that a family member had tragically died,” Howard told WITN.
A Pitt County judge awarded the North Carolina father $750,000 over the summer after Howard sued his wife’s lover for “alienation of affections,” a tort that allows a scorned spouse to sue a “third party” for interfering in their marriage, Howard’s attorney, Cynthia Mills, tells PEOPLE.
“She had originally told me that she wanted a divorce because I work too much, wasn’t around to be there, and I worked too much,” Howard told the station. “I talked about that as a part of my mistake in the situation, but it was like a punch in the gut because I thought I had this trust for 12 years and love.”
The couple went to marriage counseling but something seemed off to Howard, he told CNN. So he hired a private investigator, who allegedly learned that Howard’s wife was having an affair with a man Howard knew.
Court records obtained by PEOPLE claim that Howard and the man have been acquaintances since 2016.
“He was a colleague of hers from work,” he told CNN. “He ate dinner with us several times, we spent time together … I thought this was a friend.”
With that, Howard decided to sue under the common law tort stemming from old English law, which deemed women property, CNN reported. Mills tells PEOPLE that the tort has been abolished in all but a handful of states.
“They’re very prevalent in North Carolina. It’s a very popular tort,” says Mills, adding that she’s currently working on five cases under the tort. “In a lot of my cases, my plaintiffs aren’t really concerned about the money. They want to make a moral statement about the protection of the family, the sanctity of marriage. In a lot of my cases, that’s more important to my plaintiffs than the money.”
This is true for Howard, he said.
“I believe in the sanctity of marriage,” he told CNN. “Other families should see what the consequences are to not only breaking the vow to whatever religion you subscribe to, but also your legal responsibilities.”