Cynthia Shackelford's story could have been no different than that of any other aggrieved wife: The North Carolina woman, 60, thought her husband Allan was deeply in love with her. Then came his late nights at the office and suspicious charges on his credit card and cell phone bills. And finally, a private investigator confirmed what she had feared: Her husband, she said, was having an affair.
But Shackelford's story has a $9 million twist. Under centuries-old North Carolina case law, Shackelford sued her husband's alleged mistress, Anne Lundquist, for "alienation of affection," charging that the woman broke up her 33-year marriage.
Last week, Shackelford won. A jury awarded her $5 million in compensatory damages and $4 million in punitive damages to be paid by Lundquist.
"She set her sights on him. ... She knew he was married," Shackelford said of Lundquist Monday. "You don't go after married men and break up families."
Lundquist, 49, did not respond to requests for comment from ABCNews.com, but told The Greensboro News & Record last week that she planned to appeal the case.
In a post to the newspaper's Web site, Allan Shackelford said his marriage didn't fail because of Lundquist.
Shackelford, 62, wrote that he had had "numerous affairs going back to the first two years" of his marriage and that the couple had "significant problems in their marriage for years, including three rounds of marital counseling that failed."
Shackelford did not respond to an e-mail from ABCNews.com.
The large dollar figures surrounding the Shackelford case are unusual, but the lawsuit itself is not -- at least not in North Carolina. The state is one of just seven states to recognize alienation of affection claims, in which spouses can sue third parties that they allege interfered in their marriages.
The state sees some 200 alienation of affection claims a year, according to the Rosen Law Firm of Raleigh, N.C., and firm founder Lee Rosen said that he handles about six to a dozen such cases each year.
Most states once had the law but abolished it, he said. North Carolina legislators debated getting rid of it too, but ultimately decided against it.
"Our conservative legislators don't want to be known as the people that voted to, in effect, legalize adultery," Rosen said.
The law was in the news earlier this year after Andrew Young, a longtime aid to disgraced former presidential candidate and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, said Edwards' wife threatened to bring an alienation of affection claim against Young.
ABC News reported in February that in such a lawsuit, Elizabeth Edwards could argue that Young, by allegedly helping cover up John Edwards' extramarital affair with campaign videographer Rielle Hunter, was partly responsible for the failure of the Edwards' marriage.
Rosen said that alienation of affection claims evolved from common law under which women were considered the property of their husbands. If another man was accused of stealing his "property," a husband could sue him for damages. Today, both men and women sue under the law.
Cynthia Shackelford feels fortunate to live in a state where alienation of affection claims are recognized. Though she blames both her husband and Lundquist for the affair, she hopes her case convinces women to think twice about pursuing romances with married men.