A while back we had a sometimes-heated discussion here about child support. Most people seemed to agree that both parents had an obligation to financially support any offspring they might be responsible for producing. But what about the other way around?
Should adult children be held legally responsible for financially supporting elderly parents who are unable to support themselves for whatever reason?
In British Columbia, Ontario and many other provinces in Canada, parental support statutes are still on the books.
These laws are rarely invoked since most children, whose parents are in need, voluntarily support their parents. However, there’s a case before the BC Supreme Court right now of a 71-year-old woman (Shirley Anderson) who is suing four of her five children for parental support, in the amount of $750 per month, from each child.
Before even hearing any of the facts of the case, right away, most of us are going to assume there is something seriously wrong with the relationship between Shirley Anderson and her kids, since she’s having to take them to court in order to get them to help her financially.
One son (the one who is not included in the lawsuit) is only not included because he can’t be located, having spent most of his adult life in and out of jail.
Shirley Anderson has been estranged from her all of her kids since they were teenagers. The youngest claims he was abandoned at the age of 15 by his parents All the kids agree that that they had lived in a “harsh and brutal household”.
Since the lawsuit started, 11 years ago, the kids have been paying Shirley Anderson $10 per month each, as per the temporary court order. None of the kids are particularly well off. They’re middle-class people with families of their own, trying to save for their kids’ educations and for their own retirements. They are determined to fight this lawsuit, no matter what it takes. They’ve been representing themselves in court since they couldn’t afford a lawyer, but, earlier this week, a fancy lawman stepped up and offered to represent them for free.
BC Attorney-General Mike de Jong is recommending that the entire parental support law be taken off the books like it has been in Alberta.
Though we certainly don’t have the whole story here, on the surface it seems pretty clear that Shirley Anderson should go piss up a rope — as they say in legal circles.
But there have to be cases where the parental support law is necessary, wouldn’t you think?
Let’s say I get old (use your imaginations) and Stephen Harper decides to confiscate all our public service pensions (like he’s threatened to do). And maybe I’m too sick and/or feeble to work. And maybe instead of all my love, devotion and affection being returned by XUP Jr., she grows up to be a sociopath who cares for no one and nothing but herself.
Of course, she becomes enormously successful (as sociopaths are wont to do) but wants nothing further to do with me because I cramp her style. Should she be legally obligated to provide me some sort of financial support or should I have to fend for myself?
My example may be a bit extreme, but this not an impossible scenario (for other people – not me). There could be many reasons, aside from horrible parenting, why a child does not voluntarily support a needy parent. Maybe a spouse is resisting the added financial burden. Maybe the child feels he would be depriving his own children in order to support the parent. Maybe the child is holding a grudge over something relatively minor (I never had a birthday party) and this is his revenge?
What do you think?
And what about Shirley Anderson?
Shirley Anderson’s lawyer says, “The case is not about what kind of mother she was… the duty to support and assist an elderly parent transcends everything else.”
Soon, a whole bunch of us will be old and a whole bunch of us don’t have a secure pension or enough savings to see us through our old age. Nobody can afford retirement residences anymore. The cost of living keeps going up.
Do our children owe us, no matter what kind of parents we’ve been?
And if we’re going to make parental support relative to whether or not we’ve been good parents, who is going to make that call?