WHAT IS THE EXTENT OF LIABILITY UNDER THE DOCTRINE OF NECESSARIES AS IT RELATES TO UTILITY PAYMENTS?

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WHAT IS THE EXTENT OF LIABILITY UNDER THE DOCTRINE OF NECESSARIES AS IT RELATES TO UTILITY PAYMENTS?

My daughter is getting a divorce and she moved out of the home sometime in October. The Light, Gas and Water company is threatening to cut off service as her husband has not paid the bill. The utilities were cut off sometime after she moved out. Her husband convinced the utility to turn them back on and gave them a check for the past due balance. The check for the past due balance was returned for NSF. My daughter was not on the account and the utility company refused to discuss the account with her since she was not a signor. Now her soon to be ex-husband does not have service but she does. They are demanding that she pay the entire bill, including that portion that was incurred after she moved out and they restarted service. They claim that this debt falls under the “Doctrine of the Necessaries”. Even if this doctrine applies on the debt up to the time she moved out, I fail to understand how they can claim anything after she moved.

Asked on August 24, 2010 under Bankruptcy Law, Tennessee

Answers:

M.T.G., Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

Does your daughter have an attorney?  If not, please encourage her to get one as soon as possible. The doctrine that they are referring to does indeed exist.  How it applies in your daughters case, however, only an attorney in your area will be able to determine and fight if need be.  The doctrine states quite simply that one spouse may be liable to provide the "necessaries" of life for the other spouse.  Sometimes the law requires that the court determine that both spouses were liable for the debts incurred before they will apply the doctrine. Filing of a petition for divorce or signing a separation agreement can determine a "cut off" date as to liability in a number of different cases.  Seek legal help. Good luck.


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