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Community Debt: Doctrine of Necessaries

 By Earl N Jackson
Board Certified
Texas Board of Legal Specialization

Each spouse owes the other spouse a duty to support or provide those items necessary to live – food, shelter, medical care, etc. 

The “Necessaries Doctrine:”  Each spouse owes the other spouse a duty to support each other.  Most often, this concept will arise in a temporary order hearing. In short, if a spouse refuses to pay for the other spouse’s necessities (food, shelter, medical care, legal fees, etc.) then that spouse is labile for the costs of those items. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. §2.501.  It does not matter that the parties are separated. Note, this is subject to court discretionary review.  There is no license to go out and run up a credit card because someone thinks that the other spouse will will have to pay the bill.   Reimbursement for necessaries is subject to court discretion.

Necessaries are not defined but case law provides some guidance as to what necessaries are. Necessaries generally include food, shelter, clothing, medical care and legal fees.  This list is not exhaustive but also encompasses a broader definition depending on the means and circumstance of the parties.


Clothing is a necessary.  The court affirmed a judgment holding a man liable for clothing purchases. In Gabel v. Blackburn Operating Corp., 442 S.W.2d 818 (Tex. Civ. App.—Amarillo 1969, no writ). “Although a marriage relationship does not make the wife a general agent of the husband, it does confer upon the wife agency to purchase and contract for necessities for which the husband will be liable. … [T]he husband has a duty to support his wife and children, as well as the wife a duty to support a husband that is unable to support himself. Therefore, it was not necessary that the [husband] have actually purchased the merchandise himself to become liable for payment therefore.” Id. at 820 (citations omitted).

Well, she went over to Neiman’s and bought clothes. Daggett v. Neiman-Marcus Co., 348 S.W.2d 796. Neiman’s sued a couple for non-payment of items that were delivered to the wife before the marriage dissolved. Both husband and wife were held jointly and severally liable to repay debt, because the items, even though high-end and expensive, were found to be necessaries. “It must appear to the satisfaction of the court and jury that such articles are reasonable and proper.”

Medical Care

In Jarvis v. Jenkins, 417 S.W.2d 383 (Tex. Civ. App.—Waco 1967, no writ), the wife was separated from her husband with a divorce suit pending. The attorney for the wife purchased an airline ticket for the wife to travel to Virginia where her mother lived and get medical care. The attorney sued the husband for the cost of airline ticket. Court said that airline ticket was a necessity because wife would be receiving medical care and the husband was liable.