The Difference Between Contractual Obligations and the Doctrine of Necessities

Contractual Obligations

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Many people ask if they are responsible for the medical bills of their spouse.  To answer this question, I have to explain the difference between contractual obligations and the doctrine of necessities.

Most of the time a person becomes liable for a debt due to a contract.  A credit card is a good example of a contractual obligation where there is a promise to pay for the charges placed on a credit account.  The person responsible to pay that obligation is the person who signed the contract.  So, if a married man sings a contract for a credit card, he is responsible for that debt, not his spouse.
But, certain kinds of debts are treated differently.  Medical bills, for example, are considered necessities and the doctrine of necessities applies.  The doctrine of necessities gives spouses joint liability for the necessary support of each other and their dependents.  Under the doctrine of necessities it does not matter who received the services, or who was present when the debt was incurred.  Liability for a debt that is a considered necessary for support is jointly shared by married couples.  Medical bills, utilities, and rent often fall into the category of necessities.
So, yes, both spouses are responsible for medical bills incurred by either of them.
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Jeffrey L. Wagoner


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