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