What is a tort 
A tort, in legal terms, refers to a civil wrong that causes harm or loss to another person, leading to legal liability for the person who commits the wrongdoing. This can encompass a wide range of actions or omissions, including negligence, intentional harm, or strict liability offenses. The purpose of tort law is to provide compensation to the injured party and deter future misconduct. Examples of torts include personal injury claims, defamation, and property damage. Tort law is a fundamental aspect of civil litigation, governing interactions between individuals and entities in society.

Origins and Historical Context of the Heartbalm tort

The roots of heart balm lawsuits can be traced back to medieval England, where notions of chivalry and honor imbued personal relationships with legal significance. At the heart of these actions lay claims such as breach of promise to marry, alienation of affection, and criminal conversation. These legal doctrines, entrenched in common law principles, provided aggrieved parties with a means to seek recompense for the emotional anguish inflicted by failed romantic entanglements.

The Rise of Heart Balm Litigation

Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, heart balm lawsuits proliferated across jurisdictions, fueled by societal mores that placed a premium on the sanctity of marriage and romantic fidelity. Breach of promise suits, in particular, gained prominence, allowing jilted lovers to seek monetary damages from erstwhile partners who reneged on promises of marriage. Meanwhile, claims of alienation of affection and criminal conversation enabled spouses to hold third parties accountable for interfering in their marital unions.

Contemporary Challenges and Legal Evolution

As the 20th century progressed, attitudes towards personal relationships underwent profound shifts, spurred by changing social norms and evolving legal philosophies. Courts increasingly viewed heart balm lawsuits with skepticism, recognizing their potential to foster acrimony and abuse. In response, many jurisdictions enacted reforms aimed at curtailing the viability of these actions. Some states abolished heart balm causes of action altogether, while others imposed stringent requirements for their pursuit, such as proof of malicious intent or tangible harm.

Modern Perspectives and Legal Precedents

In the contemporary legal landscape, heart balm lawsuits occupy a precarious position, relegated to the fringes of jurisprudence. Courts remain wary of adjudicating claims rooted in matters of the heart, recognizing the inherent complexities and subjectivity involved. While remnants of these doctrines may linger in certain jurisdictions, their relevance has diminished in an era marked by a more nuanced understanding of personal autonomy and relational dynamics.


The saga of heart balm lawsuits serves as a testament to the intricate interplay between law, society, and matters of the heart. From their medieval origins to their contemporary decline, these legal actions have mirrored the evolving ethos of human relationships. While their heyday may have passed, the legacy of heart balm lawsuits endures as a reminder of the enduring tension between legal redress and matters of the heart. As the legal landscape continues to evolve, it behooves us to reflect on the lessons gleaned from this fascinating chapter in legal history.


Special thanks to Wesley Singer for editorial assistance in drafting this article.

H. Van Smith
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Trusted Virginia Attorney Serving Richmond to Williamsburg