When husband and wife are living together there is a presumption that the wife has her husband's authority to enter into a contract in all domestic matters so as to bind him for " necessaries " - that is, a reasonable supply of such things as are necessary for the use of the husband, wife, children, and household, according to the conditions in which they live.
But this is merely a presumption, which the husband may rebut by showing that when his wife incurred the debt she was already properly supplied with necessaries, or, which is the same thing, with money to buy them. Or he may show that he expressly forbade her to pledge his credit, or that he expressly forbade the tradesman to trust her, or that the credit was given to the woman herself.
When husband and wife are living apart, the presumption is that the wife has no authority to pledge her husband's credit, and if she has left her home without just cause, the presumption cannot be rebutted. But if they are living apart by mutual consent, she has implied authority to pledge his credit for necessaries, though even then, if he makes her an allowance, and pays it, the tradesman cannot recover against him. If she has money of her own, or can earn it, she probably has no implied authority to pledge her husband's credit. If, however, she has been driven out of doors by her husband, or if his conduct is so abominable that no decent woman would live under the same roof with him, the presumption is that she has authority to bind him for necessaries.
Necessaries are such things as may fairly be considered essential to the decent maintenance and generalicomfort of a person in her social position. Her authority to pledge her husband's credit is not greater when he is mad than when he is sane. A husband is liable to pay the funeral expenses of his deceased wife, but in some cases will be allowed to retain them out of her estate. As a married woman is now capable of contracting like any other person, the question to be considered is to whom was the credit given - was it given to her personally, or to her when acting as the agent of her husband ?
Servants frequently give orders to tradespeople, acting by the authority of their masters and mistresses; when the authority is withdrawn, notice of its withdrawal should be given to the managers or proprietors of the shops with whom the servants have been dealing, and they should be warned to cease supplying goods to the servants' order. Notice given to the employees only may not be sufficient.
It is always advisable to take a receipt when goods are sent to your address or when dealing with tradespeople with whom your transactions are sometimes in cash and sometimes on credit. And the person to whom the receipt is given should see that it is duly stamped. Bills must be kept for seven years before they can be destroyed with safety; then, if no claim has been made or admitted during that period, the claim is barred by the Statute of Limitations. But if an admission is made during the time that a debt is owing the period will be extended.
A Hard Case
Receipts should be kept carefully in some drawer or place, ticketed or labelled with the date of the year, so that they can be easily be found when required, for according to the leading case "money paid over again by mistake cannot be recovered." This was an instance of a person who, under compulsion of legal proceedings, paid a bill twice over, although he had a distinct recollection of having paid it the first time, but could not find the receipt. Subsequently the missing receipt was discovered, and he at once brought an action against the tradesman for the recovery of his money, but he did not succeed.
Incurring any debt or liability by obtaining credit under false pretences, or by means of any other fraud, is punishable with one year's imprisonment. The shortness of the credit is immaterial, provided that fraudulent representations have been made, such as, for example, when a person goes into a restaurant and orders food but has no means of paying for it. A wife living separate from her husband may be convicted of obtaining goods by false pretences by misrepresenting that the husband was willing to pay for them.
Writing is also unnecessary if the buyer gives something in earnest to bind the bargain or in part payment. If what the buyer gives is money, it presumably forms part of the price; otherwise it is in the nature of a pledge. There must be a genuine and an actual transference, even though it is only of a penny. It is not sufficient for the buyer to draw a shilling across the hand of the seller, and then replace the coin in his own pocket. Nor is the buyer's relinquishment of a debt sufficient. In a case where the buyer agreed that the seller should retain on account a sum of one pound which the former had by mistake overpaid the latter in a previous transaction, it was held that, although the sovereign was expressed to be retained in part payment of the new order, it was in fact no part payment.
Where goods are not in existence at the time of the contract, but are to be made and delivered at some future time, the question will often arise whether the contract is a contract for the sale of goods or a contract for work and materials, so that writing is unnecessary. The rule is that if the contract be such that when carried out it would result in transferring for a price from one person to another a chattel in which the latter had no previous property, it is a contract for a sale of a chattel, and not a contract for work and labour done.
A dentist brought an action against the executor of a lady who had ordered from him a set of artificial teeth costing E21, and who had died before they were ready. But as the order had only been given verbally, the dentist lost his case. It was held that a contract by an artist with a picture dealer to paint a picture of a given subject at an agreed price was a contract for the sale of a chattel. But in the case of an agreement by an author with a printer to print a book, although it involved finding materials, it was not a contract for the sale of goods, but was a contract for work and materials.
Any agreement which tends to be injurious to the public or against the public good is void, as being contrary to public policy. It is purely a question of law, and the application of the rule varies with the principles which guide public opinion. An agreement tending to interfere with the free exercise of the franchise is not enforceable on these grounds; but there is nothing contrary to public policy in a bargain between two subscribers to a charity to vote for each other's candidates. A promise to a voter to pay his travelling expenses, or to pay him for loss of time, or any other form of bribery, is void.