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Can I sue my husband for emotional distress?

In Canada, the Divorce Act permits a spouse to seek a divorce if the other spouse has committed cruelty. But this does not entitle the victim to collect compensation for emotional distress. In fact, Canadian law seems to minimize the relevance of spousal misconduct when determining the issues of custody, access, support and division of property. However, a Wyoming Supreme Court decided that extreme and outrageous conduct by one spouse that results in severe emotional distress to the other spouse can create a cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress and entitle the victim to collect compensation for her suffering. In the decision of McCulloh v. Drake (Wyoming, 24 P. 3d. 1162 (2001)), the court heard that shortly after the husband and wife were married, the husband began to physically and sexually abuse the wife. The trial court found that the wife had proven the abuse and the emotional distress that she suffered. The husband appealed this decision by arguing that intentional infliction of emotional distress within a marriage is not a tort (a legal wrong.) In an effort to preserve domestic harmony, courts have tried to remain indifferent when it comes to regulating behaviour within a marriage. However, courts have recently begun to distinguish claims for civil relief in marriage cases by pronouncing that a tort claim may provide a better remedy for spouses than a divorce claim. The court concluded that “emotional distress is as real and tormenting as physical pain, and psychological well-being deserves as much legal protection as physical well-being.” In preserving marital harmony as their main goal, the court held that “behaviour that is truly outrageous and results in severe emotional distress should not be protected in a misguided attempt to promote marital harmony.” It remains to be seen if Canadian courts will follow this reasoning.