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The Doctrine of Necessaries

By Steven G. Mlenak, Esq. April 2, 2014 Posted in Community Association Law

When couples decide to get married, they often promise to love and take care of each other, for better or for worst, for the rest of their lives. But from a legal standpoint, once a couple says, "I do" in the state of New Jersey, what is really expected of those individuals, particularly with respect to the accumulation of household debt that is incurred for "necessaries?"

There is a common law rule known as the Doctrine of Necessaries that New Jersey and certain other states follow. Simply stated, the doctrine is a rule that imposes liability on both spouses for debts incurred by one spouse if those debts were acquired for the purpose of providing necessaries for the family (and the spouse who incurred the debt is unable to pay for them). The doctrine stems from the common law rule that required a husband to provide support to his wife and children. But what is a "necessary?" According to Jersey Shore Med. Ctr. V. Baum, 84 N.J.141-49 (1980), a necessary is a service or good that has been provided to one spouse, but it benefits both spouses. 

More specifically, the doctrine applies to both husbands and wives, and it requires that the financial resources of both individuals be made available to pay a creditor that has provided necessary goods and/or services to either spouse. The party providing the credit is expected to first start seeking payment from the resources of the spouse who actually incurred the debt, and if those resources do not suffice to satisfy the debt, the creditor can then seek payment from the other spouse's resources.

What Must be Demonstrated in Order to Prevail Under a Doctrine of Necessaries Theory?

There are a few things that must be shown in order for a creditor (or the provider of the necessary) to prevail in a lawsuit under the doctrine. First of all, the creditor will need to show that services and/or goods were provided to either spouse. Next, the creditor must show that the goods and/or services provided were necessary for the wellbeing and/or health of the recipient spouse.

Once that has been proven, the creditor will need to demonstrate that the person against whom the action was brought was married to the individual who received the necessary goods and/or services at the time those services and/or goods were provided. Finally, the creditor must show that payment has not been made for the necessaries.

For example, if a condo was purchased outright by one spouse and only that spouse's name is on the deed but the condo was bought for the benefit of the other spouse and the family as a whole, and the purchasing spouse is unable to pay the fees associated with the unit, the association can seek payment from both spouses, even though only one spouse is named on the deed.

If you are a landlord or a homeowner's association board that has questions or concerns about how the Doctrine of Necessaries might help you with your particular situation, contact an attorney at Griffin Alexander, P.C. today.

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