The Doctrine of Necessaries – The True Meaning of “In Sickness and in Health”

On your wedding day, you and your spouse promised to care for each other “in sickness and in health.” Like most newlyweds, you probably didn’t truly understand what those words would mean. North Carolina recognizes the Doctrine of Necessaries, which provides that a spouse is liable for the other’s necessary expenses incurred during their marriage. This legal responsibility exists even when the spouse did not sign as a guarantor or request that their spouse receive the services.

What constitutes a “necessary”? A “necessary” is something which is essential to one spouse’s health and comfort. Most often, this doctrine is applied in the context of medical expenses, but it can also include food, clothing, transportation and shelter. This doctrine exists where one spouse has filed for bankruptcy but the other has not, and even after the spouse who received the services has passed away.

In order to prevail on this type of claim, the provider of the necessary services must show: (1) that the services or goods were provided to the spouse; (2) that the services or goods were necessary for the health and well-being of the receiving spouse; (3) the person against whom the action is being brought was married to the person who received the necessary goods or services at the time such services were provided; and (4) that the payment for the necessaries have not been made.

You may ask, what happens if you’re still legally married, but separated? While there is an exception to this doctrine for separated spouses, simply living apart isn’t enough. The spouse must show that the provider of the necessary services or goods had actual notice of the separation at the time the services were rendered or the goods supplied.

In light of the Doctrine of Necessaries, individuals considering a separation or who have recently separated from their spouse should consult with a knowledgeable domestic attorney to plan and implement steps to best protect themselves and their assets.

Family LawLitigation