Child Support, Medical Bills and the Doctrine of Necessaries

As part of our efforts to stay abreast of recent court decisions, the Family Law attorneys at The Gailor Law Office, PLLC regularly monitor new opinions from the Kentucky Court of Appeals and the Kentucky Supreme Court.

One interesting opinion rendered recently was from the Kentucky Court of Appeals in Smothers v. Baptist Hospital East (2013-CA-000947).

In this case, a father provided health insurance coverage for his minor child. The father and mother were not married. Unbeknownst to the father, the child’s mother sought treatment for the child on two occasions at Baptist Hospital East in Louisville. Health insurance paid on the child’s medical bills, although a balance of slightly more than $500 remained after insurance paid its share. Baptist East then sued the father for the outstanding balance, choosing for some reason not to pursue the mother in the litigation The father failed to bring the mother into the litigation. The Jefferson District Court granted a judgment for the hospital and against the father. This judgment was upheld by both the Jefferson Circuit Court and the Kentucky Court of Appeals.

In upholding the judgment, the Court of Appeals relied on the venerable common law principle known as the Doctrine of Necessaries. This Court described the doctrine as follows:

“[It} imposes a duty of responsibility on parents for the care nurture, and upbringing of children. This duty applies equally and jointly to both parents, whether married, divorced, or otherwise.”

This Doctrine is distinct from court-ordered Child Support payable from one parent to the other. The Doctrine allows third party creditors to collect money from either parent on debts incurred for a child. The Doctrine allows collection from a parent even where that parent had no knowledge of the debt or any involvement in seeking the service resulting in the debt.

Pitfall for Parents — Mistaken Assumptions

According to the Doctrine and the Court’s decision in Smothers it would be a mistake for a parent to assume he or she is automatically shielded from collection action if a debt is incurred in the name of the other parent. Clearly, if a debt involves a necessary expenditure on behalf of your child by the other parent you could be liable on the debt even if you lack knowledge of the debt have no communication or contact with the child or parent actually incurring the debt.

To discuss any issues concerning child support, medical bills, or any other Family Law issues, call The Gailor Law Office, PLLC to speak with one of our experienced Family Law attorneys — Jason Dattilo or Andrew Gailor.

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