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Rienzo v. Parisi

A-3083-06T1 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2008) (Unpublished)

DOCTRINE OF NECESSARIES — Under the doctrine of necessaries, both spouses are liable for necessary expenses incurred by the other spouse in the course of their marriage, but each obligation is only to a direct provider of necessary services and not to a general creditor whose funds were used to pay for such necessary services.

The owner of an automobile repossession business was arrested and needed money to retain a criminal defense lawyer. His wife’s brother advanced the money and, in return, the sister’s husband signed over titles to three motor vehicles that were sold for about half of the amount of money that was advanced. The arrested brother-in-law’s wife was not involved in any of the dealings nor involved in the repossession business. Allegedly, the owner of the repossession business arranged for the creation of a new business to take over the old business and arranged for the new business to be owned by the sister and brother-in-law. There was a dispute over the exact arrangements, but it was clear that the sister and brother-in-law did take over the business and lost a substantial amount of money in operating that business.

The sister and brother-in-law sued the arrested previous owner of the repossession business and also sued his wife. The claim against the wife, their sister-in-law, was that she was liable for the money advanced to her husband under the doctrine of necessaries. That doctrine “is a common law rule imposing liability on both spouses for the debt of one spouse, provided that the debt was incurred for ‘necessaries’ for the family, and the debtor’s spouse is unable to pay the debt. ... A necessary is a good or service provided to one spouse that benefits both. The doctrine is derived from the common law rule requiring a husband to support his wife. ... The duty to support imposes liability on the husband for necessaries furnished to the wife because the expenses incurred by the wife presume a failure on the part of the husband to provide necessaries to her. ... The doctrine is applied equally to both husbands and wives.”

According to prior case law, the doctrine provides: “[B]oth spouses are liable for necessary expenses incurred by either spouse in the course of the marriage. ... [T]he financial resources of both spouses should be available to pay a creditor who provides necessary goods and services to either spouse. ... [A] judgment creditor must first seek satisfaction from the income and other property of the spouse who incurred the debt. If those financial resources are insufficient, the creditor may then seek satisfaction from the income and property of the other spouse.”

The lower court ruled that the advancement of money for a criminal defense attorney was not the provision of necessaries. According to the Court, “[w]hile legal services qualify as necessaries, ..., the liability of the non-debtor spouse is only to the provider of the services, not to a general creditor. Underlying the doctrine of necessaries is that one spouse has the implied authority to pledge the other spouse’s credit for certain services. ... A purpose of the doctrine, therefore, is to provide assurances to the service provider.” According to the Court, with the doctrine of necessaries in place, “a creditor may be more inclined to perform the necessary services, which is ultimately for the benefit of both spouses.” Also according to the Court, “[t]hat is not what happened here.”

The Court noted that its “research [had] disclosed no case law that applie[d] the doctrine of necessaries other than when a creditor is the direct provider of necessary services and seeks payment from the non-debtor spouse.” It found no cases applying the doctrine to a general creditor “whose funds [were] used by the debtor to purchase necessaries as [was] the case here.” Further, the claimants were required to first seek the satisfaction from the spouse for any further debt, and they presented no evidence that even though the debtor had filed for bankruptcy, the debt had ever been discharged.

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