The people that know you best are also the people that can hurt you the most. While abusive behavior between divorced parties is common, divorced people can do things even more insidious and sinister to harm their ex-spouses: they can mess with their job, money or other means of maintaining themselves
When someone does something to make you lose money or keep you from making money, it is a tort.
A tort is “a civil wrong…for which a remedy may be obtained, usually in the form of damages [or] a breach of duty that the law imposes on persons who stand in a particular relation to one another.” Black’s Law Dictionary (11th ed. 2019)
A former spouse can do a lot of wrong…and they probably have a duty to not do wrong because of their former relationship to their ex-spouse. With ex-spouses, tortious action that causes economic harm almost always means doing something that causes the other spouse to lose their job.
An ex-spouse who has suffered economically due to their former spouse’s actions can go to court to tell their former spouse to stop those actions and make them whole for the results of the past actions. The appropriate torts to invoke are the tort of tortious interference with a contract and/or the tort tortious interference with prospective economic advantage.
Both torts are largely the same with some small differences. “The impetus behind these causes of action, however, remains much the same: sanctioning the meddling in another’s business affairs.” Grako v. Bill Walsh Chevrolet-Cadillac Inc., 2023 IL App (3d) 220324
“The torts of interference with contractual relations and interference with prospective advantage are closely allied. Both recognize that a person’s business relationships constitute a property interest and as such are entitled to protection from unjustified tampering by another. Both causes of action imply a balancing of societal values: an individual has a general duty not to interfere in the business affairs of another, but he may be privileged to interfere, depending on his purpose and methods, when the interference takes a socially sanctioned form, such as lawful competition. The difference between the two torts is that the tort of interference with contractual relations affords a greater degree of protection to the parties to a business relationship. The sacrosanct contractual relation takes precedence over the conflicting rights of any presumptive interferor, including his right to compete and his own prospective advantage.” Belden Corp. v. Internorth, Inc., 90 Ill. App. 3d 547, 551 (Ill. App. Ct. 1980) (citations omitted)
“[A] person’s business relationships constitute a property interest and, as such, are entitled to protection from unjustified tampering by another.” Chicago’s Pizza v. Chicago’s Pizza Franchise, 384 Ill. App. 3d 849, 862 (Ill. App. Ct. 2008)
If an ex-spouse’s actions caused someone to lose a job that had a contract, the actions which broke the contract and the damages should be clear. “[T]he tort of interference with contractual relation [is] where there is a certain and enforceable expectation of economic gain.” Soderlund Brothers, Inc. v. Carrier Corp., 278 Ill. App. 3d 606, 618 (Ill. App. Ct. 1995)
If a contract was broken because of an ex-spouse’s actions, it should be easy to prove both how the contract was broken and what the damages are based on the contract alone.
However, most jobs are “at-will” and do not have a contract between the employee and the employer. Therefore, more analysis is required. The complaint for the tort of tortious interference with prospective economic advantage must be sufficiently detailed.
“A claim of intentional interference must set forth facts which suggest that defendant acted with the purpose of injuring plaintiff’s expectancies.” Kapotas v. Better Government Ass’n, 2015 IL App (1st) 140534, ¶ 80, 391 Ill.Dec. 302, 30 N.E.3d 57
“To state a cause of action for intentional interference with prospective economic advantage, a plaintiff must allege (1) a reasonable expectancy of entering into a valid business relationship, (2) the defendant’s knowledge of the expectancy, (3) an intentional and unjustified interference by the defendant that induced or caused a breach or termination of the expectancy, and (4) damage to the plaintiff resulting from the defendant’s interference.” Voyles v. Sandia Mortgage Corporation, 196 Ill. 2d 288, 300 (Ill. 2001)
It is not enough to simply allege these factors in a complaint for tortious interference with prospective economic advantage…you have to prove the allegations.
The first test of proving “a reasonable expectancy of entering into a valid business relationship” is not terribly difficult to establish.
There does not need to be a formal contract to establish the existance of “a valid business relationship. “[T]he existence of a valid business relationship (not necessarily evidenced by an enforceable contract)” City of Rock Falls v. Chicago Title & Trust Co., 13 Ill. App. 3d 359, 363 (1973)
“The focus… is not on the conduct of the client in terminating the relationship, but on the conduct of the party inducing the breach or interfering with the expectancy.” Dowd & Dowd, Ltd. v. Gleason, 181 Ill. 2d 460, 484 (1998)
Proving “the defendant’s knowledge of the expectancy” is usually self-evident from the defendant’s actions…especially an ex-spouse’s actions.
Likewise, a bitter ex-spouse’s actions should easily establish “an intentional and unjustified interference by the defendant that induced or caused a breach or termination of the expectancy.”
A “plaintiff must show not merely that the defendant has succeeded in ending the relationship or interfering with the expectancy, but “purposeful interference” — that the defendant has committed some impropriety in doing so.” Dowd & Dowd, Ltd. v. Gleason, 181 Ill. 2d 460, 485 (Ill. 1998)
The “interference” is usually exposing the employee spouse by revealing some kind of information (that the ex-spouse is a thief, incompetent, a pervert, etc) to the employer.
Typically, “[t]here is no liability for interference with a prospective contractual relation on the part of one who merely gives truthful information to another” Soderlund Brothers, Inc. v. Carrier Corp., 278 Ill. App. 3d 606, 620 (Ill. App. Ct. 1995)
Giving proper and accurate reports about an employee to an employer “cannot represent an unjustified interference.” Voyles v. Sandia Mortgage Corp., 196 Ill. 2d 288, 301 (2001)
Furthermore, the ex-spouse’s actions have to the proximate cause of the actual firing. A litigant must “point to some evidence…that could support a finding that [their ex-spouse’s] intentional conduct caused the firm to breach [their ex-spouse’s employment contract.” Hess v. Kanoski & Assocs., 668 F.3d 446, 454 (7th Cir. 2012)
The final requirement “damages to the plaintiff” still needs to be proven. Lost salary…but for how long? Until they get a new job? And then the difference thereafter? And for how long.
These intentional interference with prospective economic advantage torts are not easy to prove!
Finally, the allegedly tortious actions of an ex-spouse may have good cause. What if an ex-spouse was reporting a danger or a fraud?
“The cause of action implies a balancing of societal values: an individual has a general duty not to interfere with the business affairs of another, but he may be privileged to interfere, depending on his purpose and methods, when the interference takes a socially sanctioned form, such as lawful competition.” Miller v. Lockport Realty Group, Inc., 377 Ill. App. 3d 369, 373 (Ill. App. Ct. 2007)
Why Ex-Spouses Rarely Interfere with Their Former Spouse’s Employment
An ex-spouse would have to be a fool to interfere with your employment if they are paying or receiving maintenance (formerly known as alimony). After all, the maintenance amount is based on your income.
“Maintenance…shall be calculated by taking 33 1/3% of the payor’s net annual income minus 25% of the payee’s net annual income.” 750 ILCS 5/503(b-1)(1)(A)
What If Your Current Spouse Interferes With Your Employment?
If your current spouse interferes with your employment, you do not need to invoke any of the above tort law. You can divorce your spouse and use divorce law to mitigate the damages from your current spouse’s bad behavior.
As discussed above, your spouse’s maintenance will be negatively impacted by any job loss you incur.
Additionally, an Illinois divorce court “shall divide the marital property without regard to marital misconduct in just proportions considering all relevant factors, including:
(1) each party’s contribution to the acquisition, preservation, or increase or decrease in value of the marital or non-marital property” 750 ILCS 5/503(d)(1)
Making a spouse lose their job is a “decrease in value of the marital…property”
Likewise, a destructive act that destroys an economic expectancy could be deemed dissipation.
An Illinois divorce court “shall divide the marital property without regard to marital misconduct in just proportions considering all relevant factors, including:
the dissipation by each party of the marital property” 750 ILCS 5/503(d)(2)
It doesn’t matter that an act causing a spouse to lose their job directly hurts the bad actor. “A spouse may dissipate marital assets even though he or she derives no personal benefit from the dissipation.” In re Marriage of Thomas, 608 NE 2d 585 – Ill: Appellate Court, 3rd Dist. 1993
There’s not really a cohesive statutory solution for a spouse causing another spouse’s job loss. In the end, “each case rests on its own facts” In re Marriage of Jones, 187 Ill. App. 3d 206, 222 (Ill. App. Ct. 1989)
Divorce is emotional. Money is emotional. As the mid-perm drug dealer, Big Worm, threatened in the movie “Friday,” “When you play with my money, you play with my emotions.” So, don’t play with your spouse or ex-spouse’s money or they could sue you for tortious interference with prospective economic advantage.