Due to COVID-19, people around the country are having to pay for medical treatments that they did not expect to incur. As it relates to family law, we have been getting the question: Do I have to pay for my spouse’s medical bills if they cannot afford to pay them? Unfortunately, the answer to that question is not simple. In some cases, medical providers may be able to sue for medical expenses incurred by a spouse due to the “Doctrine of Necessaries.”
The Doctrine of Necessaries, which is recognized in North Carolina, arose from the common law obligation of the husband to provide for the necessary expenses of his wife. Over the years, the court of appeals has modified the common law approach to be one that applies equally to both spouses. This generally arises with respect to unpaid medical bills for a spouse. If the spouse that incurs the medical expenses is unable to pay the outstanding medical bills, this doctrine allows a medical provider to seek payment from the other spouse for the unpaid expenses.
To recover monies for the unpaid expenses, the healthcare provider is required to show four (4) things to establish the claim under the Doctrine of Necessaries. Those four (4) things are:
- Medical services were provided to the other spouse
- The services provided were necessary for the health and well-being of the other spouse
- The person against whom the action is brought was married to the other individual at the time the services were provided
- Payment has not been made for the medical treatment provided
Assuming these can be proven by the medical provider, they may be able to collect monies from the spouse for the treatment received by the other spouse. There is, however, an exception to this doctrine that allows the spouse from whom payment is sought to be relieved from the obligation to pay for the outstanding expenses. If the spouse from whom payment is sought can show that the medical provider received actual notice of the parties being separated at the time services were rendered, they may be able to evade liability for the other party’s medical expenses.
While it is clear that actual notice must be given to the healthcare provider, in North Carolina, it is unclear as to how the provider must receive said notice. If you or a loved one separated and not yet divorced, and are facing potential liability for a spouse’s medical bills, you should consult with one of the experienced family law attorneys at Conrad Trosch & Kemmy, P.A. to discuss your next steps.