A Necessary of Life May Not be a Common Necessary of Life

H was an attorney and licensed to practice law in California. W, his wife, also an attorney, had been disbarred in Kansas. She practiced immigration law in Stockton, California. During their marriage, W entered into an agreement with a Computer Company [CC] to lease her computer equipment and services. When she failed to pay, CC sued her and awarded a judgment against her of $40,000.

When CC could not collect from W, it sued H to get its money claiming that W’s debt was a community debt making H liable as well. H’s attorney argued to the trial judge that CC could not sue him, because he was not responsible for W’s debts after a marriage had ended. He had filed for divorce the day before. Grant also argued that computers were not a common necessary of life as noted by Family Code Section 914, and he should not be responsible for W’s after-marriage debts.

Family Code Section 914 states, “…a married person is personally liable for the following debts incurred by the person’s spouse during marriage:

‘(1) A debt incurred for necessaries of life of the person’s spouse before the date of separation of the spouses.’

‘(2) … a debt incurred for common necessaries of life of the person’s spouse after the date of separation of the spouses.” (Italics added)

The trial court found that W’s debt to CC was a community debt because it was incurred while H and W were still married. The court further found that the computer equipment was anecessary of life, and therefore, H would be liable for W’s debt to CC after H and W separated.

H appealed and the Appellate Court agreed with CC:

“Thus, while common necessaries are those that all families need (e.g., food, clothing, & shelter), what constitutes necessaries depends on the circumstances of the particular marriage.”

In this particular case, regarding the use of computer equipment in a law office, the Appellate Court specifically stated:

“A modern law practice entails a lot of paperwork, which commonly includes computerized forms. Frankly, it is difficult to imagine a reasonable attorney beginning or maintaining a California law practice without a computer. But it is not our call to make in the first instance: The trial court judge, who was in the best position to determine the needs of a law office in her own county, found in this case that [W]’s specific law office needed computers. We will not disturb that finding.”

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