Payment of Medical Bills in SC Family Court Litigation: Keep the Health Insurance Coverage
Payment of Doctor and Medical Bills in Family Court Litigation in South Carolina
*Keep the Health Insurance Coverage Until Your Divorce is Final*
By M. J. Goodwin
So your spouse has left you. It is an almost reflexive reaction to remove the spouse from your bank account, close the joint credit card and change the locks. But think twice before you drop the health insurance. Why? Because you could be responsible for your spouse’s medical bills that are incurred between the time you separate and the time you ultimately divorce. If your divorce is contested, in Anderson County, you could be a year or more away from a final hearing. Paying that premium is expensive! You have hard feelings toward your spouse and don’t want to do anything that benefits your spouse. But it is much preferable to continue the insurance coverage until the divorce is final.
Spouses have a duty to provide for each other in South Carolina. This is a gender neutral evolution of the common law “Necessaries Doctrine”, which provided that a husband had to pay for his wife’s “necessaries”, including medical expenses. In 1995, Trident Regional Medical Center brought suit against three couples in an effort to recover payment of medical bills. See Trident Regional Medical Center, 454 S.E.2d 343 (S. C. Ct. App. 1995). Trident won.
So if your spouse gets sick with a serious illness such as cancer or has a serious accident, you can be responsible for the medical bills, even though you are separated. These bills can amount to thousands and thousands of dollars. It does not matter that you are not contractually liable for the medical bills and that you did not sign anything. It is important to protect yourself.
For this reason, it is important to keep your spouse covered on your health insurance until such time as the divorce is final. I have had clients that were pursued by hospitals and doctors for their spouse’s medical bills even after the divorce. The health care provider/creditor was able to recover expenses that were incurred up until the time of the divorce.
A possible challenge to the “Necessaries Doctrine” is an equal protection challenge. If you had not married your spouse, but only lived together instead, then you would not have the burden of those medical bills. So why should you be punished by virtue of the marriage? To my knowledge, no such challenge has been raised in South Carolina.
M. J. Goodwin has practiced law in Anderson, South Carolina since 1991.