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Separation and Medical Bills

Are you recently separated or divorced and have started receiving bills for unpaid medical expenses of your former spouse?  Are these bills for medical treatment your former spouse received after you separated? The Doctrine of Necessaries, which creates a legal duty for the husband to provide for the expenses of his wife, is still recognized in North Carolina. The most common necessary expense is unpaid medical bills of the other spouse. When the spouse receiving treatment cannot pay for services, the service provider will often sue the other spouse to satisfy the outstanding debt.

For a healthcare provider to establish a claim under the doctrine of necessaries, the provider must show the following: (1) a medical provider treated the spouse, (2) the services were necessary for the well-being and health of the spouse treated, (3) the spouse the action is brought against was married to the spouse receiving treatment at the time of treatment, and (4) payment for services was not received. If the provider can prove each of the above-listed elements, the provider may collect payment from the non-treated spouse.

The doctrine of necessaries has an exception for parties that are separated. When the spouse being sued by a medical provider is legally separated from the spouse that received treatment, that spouse may not be liable for the medical expenses of their former spouse. The Supreme Court of North Carolina has previously held that for the exception to apply, the medical provider must have had actual notice that the parties were separated when medical services were provided. It is not clear how the medical provider must be made aware of the separation for this exception to apply. The burden of discovering that the parties are separated may fall to the provider, or the spouse receiving treatment may have the burden of notifying the provider.

There are ways to protect yourself from being responsible for the unpaid medical bills of your spouse in the event of separation. If your former spouse has serious or long-term medical issues and you are recently separated, contact a local family law attorney for advice.