A North Carolina woman who won $9 million in a lawsuit against her husband's alleged mistress has a simple message for would-be homewreckers out there: "lay off."
"My main message is to all those women out there who might have their eyes on some guy that is married to not come between anybody," Cynthia Shackelford told "Good Morning America" today. "It's not good to go in there. It hurts the children. My children are devastated. I'm devastated.
"Allan [Shackelford's husband] and I joked about sitting in rocking chairs and having a glass of wine or whatever and talking about what our children did when they were little. That's never going to happen now."
Shackelford's story could have been no different than that of any other aggrieved wife: The 60-year-old 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."
But even Shackelford was shocked at the dollar amount.
"I was surprised. It was totally up to the jury to come up with that number," she said.
Lundquist, 49, now the dean of students at Wells College in Aurora, N.Y., told "Good Morning America" it would be "inappropriate" to comment on the case at this time, 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.
"You have to be ready to have all your dirty laundry aired in public whether it's your sex life or lies that have been told...everything is on the table it can be really humiliating," Rosen said.
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.