Show Me… Divorce-Related Lawsuits: Steve Harvey’s Family Feud

By Ariel Sosna and Sarah Van Voorhis

Steve Harvey is no stranger to bad press. Harvey famously named the wrong winner when hosting the Miss Universe pageant, got into hot water for comments about the attractiveness of Asian men, and had a very public, contentious divorce from his second wife, Mary Shackelford Harvey, in 2005. Things had quieted down recently for Harvey, who now hosts “Family Feud,” until Shackelford decided to put Harvey back in the press.

In May 2017, she filed a lawsuit claiming that Harvey had damaged her “soul” and owes her $60 million. Shackelford claims that she has been suicidal and self-medicates to cope with their nasty divorce. According to TMZ, Shackelford claims she is “emotionally and physically destroyed after losing her son, her businesses, and the joy of Mother’s Days.” The suit even states: “All was loss [sic] Mary L. Harvey was dead.” The actual causes of action in the lawsuit are child endangerment, torture, conspiracy against rights, kidnapping, murder, breach of contract and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

It appears Texas has jurisdiction over both the Harvey divorce and now the tort claims. Like Texas, California does permit inter-spousal lawsuits for certain torts. In 1962, pursuant to Self v. Self (1962) 58 Cal.2d 683, California abolished inter-spousal immunity for intentional torts. In Self, the wife filed a civil suit during the divorce for assault, battery and emotional distress stemming from domestic violence and the Appellate Court held that she had the right to pursue her claims. That same year, the California Supreme Court abolished inter-spousal immunity for negligent torts in Klein v. Klein (1962) 58 Cal.2d 692, relying on the holding in Self and allowing a wife to sue her husband when she slipped and fell on his boat and broke her leg. California also allows actions for torts related to intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, such as when a spouse purposely conceals that he or she had a sexually transmitted disease. See John B. v. Super. Ct. (Bridget B.) (2006) 38 Cal.4th 1177.

In the end, Shackelford’s tort claims may fail because the statute of limitations for intentional torts is one year and their divorce was finalized twelve years ago. Therefore, the survey says that Shackelford may only be successful in reviving the former family’s feud.

About the authors:

Sarah Van Voorhis and Ariel Sosna, both Certified Family Law Specialists, are founding partners of Van Voorhis & Sosna. Follow them on Twitter at @VanVoorhisSosna.