The Elder Law Forum

The Elder Law Forum
"Quasi-Bachelor" Husband Refuses to Insure Wife

A husband who chooses to live apart from his wife – but refuses to divorce her – is not a quasi-bachelor. He may continue to be responsible for certain financial obligations she incurs.

I so advised a USD Senior Legal Helpline caller. She is 61. Her husband left her three years ago and they have been living separately since. She has health problems that prevent her from working full time and lives in subsidized housing. She drives a 14-year-old car that "is on its last legs."

"My husband has a very good job and has health insurance provided by his employer. I don't have health insurance, and I can't afford it," she said. "Last week I called him and asked him if he would please put me on his health insurance plan."

"What did he say?" I asked. "He laughed and said 'absolutely not,'" she replied. "Can I make him place my name on the company policy?" she asked. "No," I advised. "That option is governed by the group health contract between him and his employer. He has no obligation to elect spousal coverage.

"However," I continued, "if he was smart he would." I informed her of the "doctrine of necessaries." That doctrine, which originated in English courts more than 300 years ago, held a husband liable for the payment of necessary goods or services provided his wife by third-party vendors.

"Necessaries" have been defined as "Things indispensable, or things proper and useful for the sustenance of human life, including food, lodging, clothing, medicine and other things essential to life and comfort and in keeping with a station in society."

Most states have statutes specifically providing that husbands and wives are liable for emergency medical expenses incurred by their spouses. Accordingly, the caller's husband has placed himself at substantial financial risk by refusing to insure her. In today's medical market, a course of treatment for cancer or heart disease routinely costs $50,000 to $500,000, and sometimes more. A $300-per-month premium for spousal healthcare coverage would be a prudent investment on the part of the caller's husband.

He has "indirect liability," which is based upon agency principles, whereby spouses are deemed to be each other's agent, and the doctrine of necessaries, which imposes a duty of mutual support upon a married couple. He should reconsider his refusal to add her to his insurance plan – or alternatively, agree to a divorce and alimony. He is not a "quasi-bachelor."

Pro bono legal information, advice and limited assistance is available through the USD Senior Legal Helpline, 1-800-747-1895; Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and not the university.

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