Duty and Doodie

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.”

Does it?

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?


34 responses to “Duty and Doodie

  1. Well, ma’am, for starts, an argument could be made for Shirley displaying sociopathic tendencies herself.

    If we want to go beyond that, I’m not sure that a person who, apparently of her own free will, booted her kids out should necessarily be able to come back and pump ’em for cash, after no contact for two-three decades.

    Shouldn’t there be some kind of quid pro quo? Say, if she cared for ’em properly in the first place, then she might be entitled to decent care in return? And if not, maybe all bets are off…

  2. My parents are lucky I’m not suing them for pain and suffering from my childhood. They won’t see a dime of financial support from me and I’d love a chance in open court to tell them why.

  3. I saw this in the paper and asked myself some of those questions.

    I had a pretty harsh childhood and my mother was in my face until she wasn’t and then she was totally unavailable. This being said so many have suffered so much more than I did and I think it is a slap in the face for them to be required or even to be asked to support an aging parent who failed in their responsibilities .

    I’d like to think that most people could put aside the past and when they are able to financially, extend a hand to aging parents regardless, but as a society I think it is wrong to expect the law to force kids to financially support parents whether good or bad.

  4. The three grandkids that we have with us were locked in closets, beaten with horse cinches, had food withheld, etc, etc. Frankly, I think they should be able to sue her for support. She stole their Social Security money when they lived with her. One boy had one set of dirty too small clothes when I took him.

    They don’t ever owe her a dime for that life, when all she had to do was leave them with us when she married the stepfather and they could have had a life without abuse.

  5. Coyote – From what little I know, if I had to judge this case, I sure wouldn’t make those kids pay either. But, I would not want to be the person down the line who has to decide whether or not someone was a good enough parent to deserve some support from their kids when they get old and needy. It’s not unheard of that reasonably good people spawn selfish kids. There are all sorts of old folks in homes that have been pretty much abandoned there. They weren’t all horrible parents. I’m just saying I don’t know how you would start judging who did their parenting job well enough that the kids should have to support them.

    Alias – I hope it never comes to that. I don’t even understand how this case has been in the courts this long. It’s obviously not as cut and dried as we’d like it to be.

    Jay – It’s a tricky thing. I would hope that most kids will make sure their parents are well looked after in their old age. But there are kids who ditch their parents and the parents were perfectly normal parents to them. And then there are those really awful parents – and those are likely the ones who would actually sue their kids for support. I couldn’t see myself ever doing that no matter how bad things get.

    Savanleck – Hi!! Nice to see you out and about again. Ya those kids of yours should be compensated for what they went through. I hope the mother never has the gall to sue them for support. What are the laws on parental support like in the US??

  6. I agree with you that the issue isn’t whether someone has been a good parent or not but whether it should even be required at all.

    Grown kids could easily claim past abuse and who could prove otherwise? Many people have grudges over minor things such as the example you give over not having had a birthday party.

    But to be expected justified or not, to support aged parents when people are supporting their own families is unrealistic. Most people even if willing, simply couldn’t do it.

  7. Isn’t this one of the reasons people have kids in the first place; to have someone to sue when they get older?

  8. As I’m getting older I’m wondering if my children will be willing to help me out as needed. Will they just stick me in a nursing home so I won’t be peeing on their furniture? Maybe a little cottage next to their house? I hadn’t thought of suing. That’s a new one to me. I hope that lady doesn’t get a dime myself.

  9. I’ve never heard of this type of thing. Seriously? Canada has laws about this? If there is a law in place, doesn’t that discourage maybe the one reason an asshole might be decent to their children?
    There should be no laws regarding parental support. As far as making the call, that’s what family love is all about. Have a close loving relationship and your kids won’t let you starve. Seems pretty simple to me. Besides you shouldn’t even expect anything.
    Not every old person has kids, so the government should not depend on children supporting parents. What a bunch of crazy.

  10. It’s really interesting to me that Canada has laws about kids supporting parents. I wonder why this law came about? Were there a lot of old people left penniless and the government was sick of footing the bill?

    I think if you have raised your kids and continue to have a good relationship with them after they become adults (like most people do), you shouldn’t need to rely upon laws and enforcement to make sure they don’t let you live on cat food in a refrigerator box.

    I haven’t talked to my father since I was 18, and if he tried to get me to support him in his old age, I would definitely tell him to “go piss up a rope” (to borrow a legal phrase). He didn’t support me when I needed it, so same goes for his time of need.

  11. I think I’d take her fishing, really early one morning, at a remote lake *wink, wink*

    Or leave some banana peels laying about her house, at the top of the stairs.

  12. I believe that children should be obliged to take care of their parents in their old age and this should not be conditional on how good or bad they have been as parents. This is what I believe and I have practiced it. But it should never be a law. It cannot work as a law. It should be about accepting our responsibilities. Laws do not help.

  13. If this became common practice, can you imagine the nation-wide legal can of worms this might open up?

    I can just hear the lawyers out there cackling with glee, right now.

  14. i hope that we have a good enough relationship with the jellybean that when we are old and decrepid, he will be able/willing to help us out. with an unsecure govt pension for me and nothing for the hubby since he is still only on contract, i have an ulcer from fretting about how we will live our lives after we are deemed too old to be of use to the work force. maybe we’ll have to have someone take us out back… but getting back to the topic at hand, i think brett’s idea of taking shirley on a nice fishing trip. save everyone time, money and heart ache. pissing up a rope would be too nice for her (of course if all of the allegations from her children prove to be true). Man, this is a whole can of worms isn’t it?

  15. Actually, I find it hard to feel sorry for today’s seniors (the “younger” ones born after WWII).

    They had the best jobs with the best pensions. The cheapest houses. Benefitted the most from the post-war boom…yet it was their generation that drove our country into debt.

    If anything, they should be paying US support!

  16. This is a very good question and important to debate right now.

    I don’t think that our seniors are valued enough in this culture and people should be obligated to provide their parents with some kind of financial and/or emotional support as they age.

    They cared and supported us through our childhood (albeit some better than others), we should do the same for them. Not just for their sakes, but for our own. You (usually) only get one set of parents, once they’re gone, they’re gone.

    Can you really live the rest of your life knowing that you didn’t give them the proper care and respect they deserved while they were still alive?

    I’m not saying give them your childrens tuition money or your life savings, but people should offer some kind of care and help.

  17. Well, since I have no kids, it’s pretty much moot for me. If I don’t have my shit together for when I get old, I’ll just have to go live under a bridge somewhere.

  18. And…since my Mom has a lot more money than me, the point is also moot.

    That being said, it’s not like I wouldnt’ help her out, if she needed it. But that’s a personal decision…it shouldnt’ be legislated.

  19. Canada is so different than the U.S., this isn’t even a topic here. Parents in the U.S. are usually happy if their kids make it out of their homes and into a career anytime before they themselves are ready to retire. The U.S. is full of boomarang kids.

    In the old days, back when my Mom and Dad’s parents were still alive it was understood that the one of the children would take on the responsibility of taking care of the parents when the time came. In both cases my Mom and Dad took care of their parents. So at one time there would two Mom’s and one Dad all living in their home and they all died their of old age, but times have changed and people’s ideas about obligations and right and wrong and all that have changed too. It sort of sucks.

  20. I don’t think this is something that should be legislated. Parents are legally responsible for supporting their kids because they chose to bring financially helpless and dependent people into the world. The children made no such reciprocal commitment. If they have the means AND they want to, they will supplement their parents’ income. Otherwise, their parents can live adequately on the public pension system (OAS, GIS, CPP, etc.).

    Seniors have a lower rate of poverty in Canada than many other groups, because of public policy changes in the 1970s.

  21. Penny – That’s another point. We can legislate and sue, but if the kids just have enough for their own families to get by on what kind of support will there be for the parent? Maybe we should look at making sure that there are adequate pensions for seniors who don’t have one.

    Sam – I know that’s why I had mine!! I really should have had half a dozen though because I expect to do a lot of exotic travelling when I retire.

    Linda – Me too. Do you actually need your kids to look after you? You and your husband must have made adequate provisions for your retirements. And I think most people have some sort of retirement fund/plan so they don’t have to live off their kids.

    Geewits – I agree with absolutely everything you said and love the way you said it.

    Kimberly – I believe the laws were put in place during the depression because there was no government money to help seniors. I can see our current government making a big push to keep this legislation in place as they go about slashing social programs and funding.

    Brett – I can’t wait to see how this case comes out. There’s a big delay now while the new pro bono lawyer gets up to speed on what’s been going on and gathers his ammunition. We might be old and grey before it’s resolved. Also, I’m pretty sure she’d be too wary to go fishing with you.

    LGS – Interesting perspective. That’s pretty much how the law sees it, too. It would be very difficult to take food out of your kids’ mouths though in order to support a parent who was abusive and/or neglectful and abandoned you as a child. I applaud your fortitude in being able to do this.

    Friar – I don’t know. The law has been around for ages and this is only the 3rd or 4th time it’s ever been invoked. I don’t think most crappy parents have the balls to sue for support.

    Smothermother – Yes, it is. I’m certainly hoping that I won’t have to rely on my child to support me in my old age. They need to live their lives too – support their own families. But just in case, I’m making sure she gets herself into a very lucrative profession!! Lol

    Friar – Man, you don’t feel sorry for anybody. Most of those post-WWII folks are still supporting their kids. They’ve bought them homes, they pay for their grandkids’ schools, they take the kids and grandkids on vacations, they toss a few grand their way every so often to keep them afloat. I know many people our age who get regular hand-outs from their parents.

    Pauline – You may be right. You are right. I’m only hesitating because I would find it difficult, for instance, to support a parent who put me through hell as a child and finally ditched me at 14 or 15. But forgiveness is good for the soul, right?
    Jazz – You can come and live with me and Violetsky in our villa in France. Or under the bridge leading to the villa. Whichever you’d prefer.

    Ellie – I think what you gave your parent is the most awesome support imaginable. With such an incredibly generous spirit, I’m pretty sure you would be more than happy to provide for any member of your family that needed it even if it meant going without things yourself – no matter what that family member might have done to you in the past.

    Cedar – Ya, we seem to have forgotten that having an extended family all under one roof was the norm at one point. If it wasn’t the grandparents living with you it was the spinster aunt or the ne’er-do-well uncle or some schizophrenic cousin. Or all of the above. It enriched everyone’s lives. And you’re right it’s sad.

    Zoom – I was wondering about that too. Why doesn’t this old lady have some sort of pension to live on? If she never had a job is she still eligible for these? Because my mum never had a job outside the home and she certainly would not be able to live just on the pension she’s getting.

  22. I think we should support our parents in their old age. It is the right thing to do since they cared/supported us growing up. However, every circumstance is different and this story sure sounds traumatic and complicated. Makes me think this elderly woman is just getting what she deserves – nothing.

  23. Personally I will be happy to tend after my mother in her autumn years as she always has been supportive of me, both emotionally as well as fiscally and I expect that I will end up doing the same for her.
    My father is a different story.
    With regards to this whole situation of suing children for support I will at some point in the future sue XUP’s daughter to support me because I am a realtime as well as an online friend of hers. 🙂 I will also be suing my friend “Creepy’s” daughter for support because thats what I bought her for 19 years ago and I haven’t gotten anything since!

  24. MM – Here I thought you were going to be sympathetic to poor Shirley when you started your comment. And then you give her a surprise smack upside the head!

    Friar – I know. I wasn’t arguing with you. I was expanding on your point. Freaky, eh?

    Lebanowski1728 – Nice try, dude, but I don’t think you can sue other people’s kids for support. If that’s possible, then maybe I can sue you for child support even though XUP Jr. isn’t your kid? Eh? How about that?

  25. If your mom had never worked, she wouldn’t be eligible for CPP or any private pensions. But she’d still be eligible for Old Age Security (OAS), and if that were pretty much her only source of income, she’d also qualify for the GIS (Guaranteed Income Supplement). She wouldn’t be rolling in dough, but it’s more money than welfare would pay. She could get by.

  26. Wow. Well For $750 per kid that’s one heck of a lot of support. (Seriously $3K is a lot of support.) I’m watching this one with interest.

    The Man’s mom is now currently going after his dad 29 years after the divorce to try and get half of the pension she turned down when she got divorced. (Never mind she’s remarried and re-divorced a number of other men since then.) I can see her going after us for support. (she also abandoned the boys when The Man was 14.)

    I think this should be struck down… as an adult isn’t it my responsibility to make sure I’m taking care of myself? Just saying.

  27. Whether being a parent transcends behavior or not, the problem would be enforcement. Deadbeat kids and deadbeat dads and the law would change but practice wouldn’t.

  28. The road back was long and tedious and painful, but I am on the mend. The garden, not-so-much.

    I do not believe I have ever even heard of this issue before. I tried to look it up on WesLaw and did not find anything. Since the U.S. is virtually unable to make a parent pay child support, I doubt this would go over too well.

    The boys are always saying, “We’ll take care of you.” I am always saying, “That is not your job.” But, it is nice to know that, if they could, they would.

  29. MM –Yowza!

    Friar – I’ll try not to do it too often.

    Zoom – Ya, old people get lots of good deals. Bus passes for $30. Trips to Europe for $100. I saw an old guy at the pharmacy buying a whole basketful of prescription drugs and he had to hand over 83 cents or something.

    Nat – Funny how no one else picked up on the fact that she was asking for a hell of a lot of money. Originally it was $300 – $350, but she seems to have doubled it since the kids got a lawyer.

    Pearl – However flawed the child support enforcement system is (and it’s bloody flawed) they do manage to recover some of the money owed. Without the laws there would be a heck of a lot more kids living in poverty. Of course, I’m not sure if the parental support thing is the same at all.

    Savanvleck – Well, we’re all going to need our kids for something down the road – if only to be part of a continuing family.