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Necessaries

wife husband support marriage

Things indispensable, or things proper and useful, for the sustenance of human life.

Traditional law required a husband to support his wife during their marriage irrespective of the wife's own means, her own ability to support herself, or even her own earnings, which, according to the Married Women's Property Acts passed in the mid-nineteenth century, she could do with as she pleased. The wife had no corresponding duty to support her husband. A husband owed the same support to the couple's children. He had the legal obligation to provide "necessaries" for his wife and children, which encompass food, clothing, lodging, HEALTH CARE, education, and comfort. Modern FAMILY LAW is now gender neutral: husbands and wives have an equal and mutual obligation to provide necessaries.

Courts rarely let themselves be involved in family disputes concerning necessaries while the marriage is ongoing. Depending on a couple's income, what is deemed "necessary" will vary widely. Although the level at which a spouse is to be maintained during marriage should correspond to the couple's station in life, successful litigation defining support obligations during marriage is rare. When a couple separates or divorces, maintenance and support become issues for the courts.

The law has recognized the wife's traditional authority to purchase necessaries. If a husband fails to fulfill his duty of support, his wife is authorized to purchase what necessaries she or their child needs, on the husband's credit and even against his express wishes. Beyond the basic necessities, courts look to the couple's circumstances. In some cases fur coats, gold watches, jewelry, and expensive furniture have been deemed necessaries. It is up to the merchant to show that the unauthorized purchases were in fact necessaries, and the merchant will not collect from the husband if the husband actually furnished appropriate necessaries to his wife and family.

The future of the necessaries rule is unclear. It may become gender neutral by evolving to protect purchases by the nonearning spouse in role-divided marriages, or it may disappear altogether because of the increasing financial independence of marriage partners and the attendant blurring of role division.

Necessary and Proper Clause - Further Readings [next]

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