Honour Thy Mother and Thy Father: Parental Support

How would you feel if your mother, who abandoned you when you were fifteen years old, sued you thirty years later for parental support? I expect that your first thought would be “What? That’s ridiculous!”

But it’s not. Not in British Columbia. The legislation provides that a parent who is dependent for reasons of age, illness, infirmity or economic circumstances may look to his/her adult children to provide support. The law also says that an adult child is liable to maintain and support a parent having regard to the other responsibilities and liabilities and the reasonable needs of the adult child.

The legislation was enacted in 1922 and was intended to ensure that the State was not liable for the financial support of workers who had been laid off or were only seasonally employed. This was the period prior to the dirty 30’s and the Great Depression. I guess it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Today it is a little used anachronism, but when it is wielded it can add injury to insult. In the leading case in British Columbia, Newson v. Newson 1998, the trial court tried to avoid the rigours of the legislation by finding that only a parent who was already dependent on an adult child could qualify to bring a claim. However, it was apparent that this analysis was flawed. Clearly, if a parent had a relationship of dependency there was a bond between parent and child and the invocation of this law would be unnecessary.

In this latest case, Shirley Anderson is suing four of her adult children and asking for $750.00 per month from each child. She abandoned her son, Ken, when he was fifteen years old and has had no relationship with him for three decades.

So, what factors will the court consider?

1. The adult child’s familial obligations, which have priority;

2. The assets and income of the adult child’s spouse or partner will not be considered;

3. Evidence of abandonment, abuse and estrangement, including the length of the estrangement will play a role;

4. A parent shall first look to spousal support before bringing an application against an adult child.

The good news is that the Ministry of the Attorney General has just recommended that the parental support law be abolished. Unfortunately, it will come too late for Shirley Anderson’s children.

My prediction? This is an audacious claim and she will not succeed in respect of her son Ken. With regards to her three other children, once the facts of their situations are made public, I will prognosticate their fate.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

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5 thoughts on “Honour Thy Mother and Thy Father: Parental Support

  1. In this case, this should be tossed out of court.

    The law was made so that children might take in parents to their homes as they became old many decades ago. In such cases they were participating family members in a life time bond. Often the family estate was passed down to defer costs. Parents even loaned money to children early in life to help them get started. A mutual “family” benefit is achieved. Chinese commonly practice this today.

    But this is not possible in this case. Forget who is at fault. Should children be obliged to pay for expensive third party care that goes far beyond a “family” obligation? Should this include money for possible addictions or extras? I think not as this means you are born a slave to your parents. Certainly a defense must exist there. A moral one does.

    If we need fault for conclusion of this case, did Shirley have an estate? And addiction? Was her family values and participation of family interest? Obviously not. Would she be a productive member if living with one of the children? I doubt with this family history this is possible.

    In our modern day society, it is now the social norm for parents to provide their own pensions, savings and way. CPP/OAS was created and in part is for this purpose.

    But the law still stands. Say $1/month, and no legal fees from the defendants. Terminate this case so people can move on with their lives.

    Then repeal the law or at least modify it so that people like Shirley can’t abuse it. Modification might be good in cases where parents dip life savings for 2 PhDs and expect as a social family contract future assistance for the sacrifice. But that does not exist here.

  2. As the daughter of two abusive, totally self-absorbed, self-righteous elderly parents, I seriously hope this case doesn’t set a precedent. My parents have always been comfortably middle-class, yet they hated spending a dime on me as a kid. I went many winters without properly warm clothing because they couldn’t be bothered to buy me school clothing…even though they had no problem buying themselves $80 pairs of shoes and plenty of beer and wine to keep their 2 alcohol refrigerators stocked. I endured years of belittling, constant criticism, and domineering behavior. Literally, I have never heard a kind word from either of them. As a teenager, I wasn’t allowed to have friends or socialize. At all. Of course, helping me with my university education was out of the question. So I struggled and paid my way without their help.
    And now to think they can blow through their considerable nest egg and then sue me for support. Nice. I wouldn’t put it past them. I wonder if I can counter-sue for the emotional, mental, and financial stress of having these jerks for parents?

  3. More law, less diva… if you please.

    This was sent to CBC’s the Current this winter, when the program profiled my case against four of my adult children.

    Dear Mr. Robertson:

    Let’s set the record straight.

    In 2000 I received a interim order against my five adult children for a sum of $10 per month per child. For several years with three exceptions all paid, however in 2008 I was forced to sue them all again in a bid to recover parental support payments that had not been paid by two of my children. At this point my health had deteriorated to the point where it was determined the sum should be raised.

    It is alleged I abandoned my children while they were still in their teens, this is not the case, and in any event my if it was my husband would have had more to say about it than I; in fact my children quite willingly left home early in life to live their lives, but no earlier than any of their acquaintances did.

    Donna was 17 years of age when she left home to attend Camosun College in Victoria and lived with relatives there in 1976. She never returned to live in our home.

    Brian was 21 years of age when he left home to get married in 1979. My husband Gary and I moved to Osoyoos at the end of 1979. Two of the boys moved with us. Darrell was 17 years of age and Kenneth was 15. Brian and his wife Vicki gave up their apartment and moved into our family home in Creston with Keith (age 18 years).

    Keith was 18 years of age when we moved to Osoyoos in 1979 and was in his senior year in high school in Creston, and as such wished to finish school with his friends. Keith had a job at a local gas station and spent all his monies on his car, as there was no need to pay for his school. He had 2 Corvettes when he graduated. Eventually he moved in with a friend in Creston and started his life.

    Darrell at 19 was basically independent by 1981, but came and went and the last time he lived with me was 2007. His whereabouts are unknown.

    Kenneth lived with us until 1982 when Gary and I moved to Castlegar. Ken was 18 years old, he had a job, a car, a girlfriend, and a social life and he had no interest in leaving. He willingly stayed in Osoyoos.

    Now I understand most of my children were not age of majority when they left home to start their adult lives, but this was not unusual at this time.

    I will now answer your questions as candidly as I can.

    Why did you decide to sue your children for support?

    I am a 72 year old, disabled pensioner with multiple medical conditions, and I am destitute. I am suing four of my adult children for a measure of support for my few remaining years, including support that was withheld from me these many years under the laws that exist.

    Why do you think they should be responsible for supporting you?

    Despite my daughter’s lofty exhortations to the contrary, the ‘social safety net’ after years of atrophy is not what it used to be, nor was there much of one at all in the BC interior when she grew up. I was raised to believe that the family (if able) rather than the government should provide for the elderly parent, as the needs of the elderly parent are not always met by available programs. As Donna has pointed out, I receive a small Canada Pension and Old Age Security disbursement but I don’t receive a Disability pension. I do receive Pharma Care and some drugs are covered, but not all. I am now on chemotherapy drugs and these are not covered, and must be paid for. This added expense, among others, have incrementally affected my monthly budget and I have had to resort to the local food bank as a result.

    Donna argued that individuals should be responsible for themselves. How do you respond?

    I won’t address my daughter’s take on ‘jungle law’ beyond admitting she has indeed been self-sufficient her entire adult life, thanks to the guidance of her parents and her own headstrong initiative; however expecting everyone to to take care of themselves at all times seems mean-spirited, and a society should be judged by the way it treats its weakest members. In my own defence if I’d received alimony from my husband in a timely fashion (which was not the case) instead of resorting to the income set aside for my retirement, events may have followed a very different course. My relationship with my children may also have been different had they not been complicit in this.

    How do you respond to Donna’s characterization of the care and support you provided your children as they were growing up?

    While my daughter’s own child raising method involved nannies, Donna herself seems to have no recollection of what was considered “normal” child rearing in the 1960’s in a rural community compared to what might be considered fashionable in suburban 21st century Burnaby. I did work when I left high school until I got married, then remained out of the workforce to make a home and raise my family as most women did in the 50’s and 60s. Her father was a very hard working breadwinner for the family. I will admit my children’s upbringing was ‘unusual’ to an extent in that my husband was severely injured in 1966 in a work related accident. There were few “safety nets” presently in place as we would understand them today to provide nursing and rehabilitation beyond going to the hospital and staying there. This was very difficult with five small children, and while I know it was difficult for them, they were not abandoned: for six months several were fostered with family and friends while my husband was hospitalized. The hospital was in another town, and I was expected to attend to learn how to care for him. When he returned home there was further convalescence and for the following two years my husband required daily bathing, bandage application and dressing, and I also cared for my five children with minimal assistance during this time. We didn’t have a lot of money, but we had a large garden with fruit trees, and access to beef, chicken and dairy products through the family. After he got back to work our financial condition improved to the point where, far from being thrown out of the house, my daughter was given a new car for her graduation. While my children were growing up, I was a Brownie and Guide leader and was Team Mother for two of the boy’s hockey teams. Donna might consider me a poor mother, but what more could I have done?

    Is there anything else I should know that would help me understand this case better?

    Yes. From my observation there have been some shenanigans in the legal proceedings, mainly surrounding the Pro Bono law program (as I’m destitute I required legal representation– for certain reasons this has now been exhausted), but other problems that suggest political interference in this case. This is from the body of my response to my complaint concerning some of these shenanigans.

    Justice Barnyeat wrote in Newson (1998, cited below)

    CURRENT CANADIAN SITUATION:

    ‘ “It is estimated that, by the year 2010, the number of Canadians 65 years or older will be nearly 4,000,000 and that, within the next 35 years, will be in excess of 8,000,000. As the birth rate is also declining, more parents will be supported by a lesser number of children. There may well be a corresponding increase in the percentage of financially dependent elderly people. If there is a resulting strain on social insurance, public assistance and personal assets, it is clear that there will be increased pressure on filial responsibility. Increased pressure on public assistance may well lead to federal and provincial governments looking to filial recovery on a more active basis.”

    I find it inconceivable that the British Columbia Law Institute would propose to eliminate Section 90 in 2011, when an experienced and respected Judge acknowledges there will be “an increase in filial responsibility.” What is the reasoning behind the elimination of this statute?

    This is either a prime example of “short sighted thinking” disguised as a attempt to “modernize” the Family Relations Act, or it could be something more sinister. The assault on this piece of legislation has profoundly changed my perception of our justice system, government and what social services it does (and doesn’t) provide.

    I suspect that my case is being used as a stalking horse to strike the law, as this law could become problematic for the government as our society ages. The very people making these laws have no concept how the most vulnerable people exist. When you are in this segment of the population and you appear to have outlived your usefulness, you are only seen as a liability. Today, families for the most part have been conditioned not to believe they have a “moral obligation” to help an ageing parent; they are desensitized and too absorbed in their own materialistic affairs. Where are the next generation of seniors going to be when such programs as the Canada Pension Plan and the Old Age Security Program are extinguished and they are without filial assistance?

    The Family Relations Act, does have to be reformed, but not because Section 90 is little used! In my view, it is more important today, with government cut-backs in senior services and senior housing, and medical costs are sky rocketing beyond most senior’s means. Families and not the government have to start stepping up and start accepting that they have a family responsibility that must be met. This is an important piece of legislation and it would be a travesty if it is eliminated.

    This case is no longer about me, as my case is not unique. There are many seniors with identical stories to tell. Elimination of this legislation would be officially sanctioning elder abuse. ‘

    Sincerely,

    Shirley Anderson.

  4. Ms. Anderson

    As I learned very early on as a lawyer, there are always at least two sides to a story. Thank you for filling in some of the details.

    I understand your case is “on hold”. Is that because you lack legal representation or have you decided not to pursue this litigation?

    Best regards,

    Lawdiva

    1. The case is on hold as I lack legal representation, and funds for the same. The other parties have legal representation, and I am given to understand at least one was offered legal representation through Pro Bono Law, which is perplexing as all four named parties are of means.

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