Payback time for parents
A B.C. case is the thin edge of a growing trend: parents suing their adult children for support
It's been 16 years since Ken Anderson saw his mother. His parents moved out to B.C.'s West Kootenay region when he was 15, effectively abandoning him in the town of Osoyoos, 200 km away. (His dad, who worked for Labatt, had been transferred.) Ken was the family baby; by then, his four siblings had moved out. He dropped out of high school and took a job at the local Husky to support himself. He couch-surfed and, for a while, lived with a neighbour.
Eventually, a kindly boss let him crash in his basement. "The past is past," says the 46-year-old father of two, who lives in Oliver, where he runs a logging truck business. He's never been angry with his folks. But he's never tried to rebuild the relationship either. His dad died years ago and in 30 years, he's seen his mom Shirley fewer than 10 times. Imagine his surprise then, when one fine day he was served with papers announcing he was being sued for parental support.
Embrace the Chaos: 9 things I'd like back from my kids
Shirley, who is 71, has lupus, and has never worked. She and Ken's father split up in 1990, and her support largely dried up when he died, soon after the divorce. She's since amassed a credit card debt totalling $28,000 and is seeking $250 per month from Ken and an undisclosed sum from three of his siblings. (Neither she nor her lawyer were available for comment.)
More Stories from Macleans
- Our pension system is a mess, and fixing it won't be easy
- The problem with not having kids
- Why old people know more than young people
- A home is seen as a ticket to retirement. But is that wise?
As Ken found, every province except Alberta has so-called filial duty laws requiring adult children to support a parent who may be dependent due to age, illness or financial straits. They owe their existence to English "Poor Laws," and date back to the Depression-before the creation of the modern welfare state. Since then, government has introduced the Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security, recognizing its duty to look after the elderly. Filial duty laws should be abolished, says Vancouver lawyer Lorne MacLean. The B.C. Law Institute agrees. Three years ago, it began calling for the repeal of the law, calling it a stopgap response to the problem of poverty among the elderly.
In the '30s, "seniors," people aged 65 and older, made up less than five per cent of Canada's population. Today, they total 4.3 million: roughly one in seven. Within five years, seniors-many struggling with rising costs of living and health care-will outnumber children under 15, putting profound strains on Canada's health and home-care systems and pensions that, in many cases, have been critically underfunded for years. Already, Ottawa is weighing options to address a looming shortfall with the Canada Pension Plan.
Government, not children, should be responsible for their welfare, says Law Institute lawyer Kevin Zakreski. In 2005, Alberta repealed its parental support laws. England did away with its in 1948. But that's a dangerous proposition, says Wendy Bernt, a family lawyer practising in Victoria. For some, she says, these statutes are a "last line of defence against abject poverty." Raising kids is an expensive business, she adds. "If that's where your income went, it's hard, morally, to say parents don't have a right to support." Where moral and societal pressures aren't enough to enforce family responsibility, she says, it may be necessary and proper for the courts to intervene.
Claims like Shirley Anderson's have only recently come before courts in significant numbers, but more like them are expected to hit the courts in the coming decade. Queen's University law professor Nick Bala says the bulk of claims (including six reported in B.C.) date to the past 10 years. And it's not just in Canada. In Singapore last year, the number of parents filing for filial support doubled from a year earlier, to an annual 200 cases. Bala isn't predicting a sudden flood of cases. Parents, even if destitute, will be reluctant to enforce the obligation out of shame. And unless "sonny boy's a stockbroker driving a Lexus," success isn't guaranteed, says Surrey lawyer David Greig: a child must have means to pay support.
In August, the Andersons go to court. The judge will consider the children's liabilities, responsibilities and net worth. Ken and his wife, Sherry, say they have little money saved for their own retirement.
Meanwhile, in the U.S., where some on the political right argue for wider enforcement of these laws to ease the growing strain on the public purse, third parties have begun using them to force adult children to pay their parents' bills. Last year, Don Grant, an unemployed Pennsylvania dad wrestling with a mortgage and his daughter's college tuition, was successfully sued by a hospital using the state's filial statute when his 72-year-old mom skipped her bill. Grant, raised by his grandparents and estranged from his mom, didn't even know she was in hospital.
Information is current as of the original date of publication.
I was raised by extremely selfish and emotionally distant parents that prioritized cigarettes and drugs over providing extras to their children. I suppose I can't complain because I never once went without food or housing. I did however go without family vacations, extra-curricular activities, post-secondary school and all those extras like the occasional piece of fashionable clothing and toys just so that they could support their own habits. Had we truly been poor, I would never have batted an eyelash - but my parents were greedy and even went so far as to take money from their own parents and from me as a teenager (while I worked two part-time jobs and went to school) to help pay the rent.
Fast forward 20 years and they are now divorced. Both on welfare, both still prioritizing cigarettes/drugs/alcohol and I don't speak to either of them for a multitude of reasons. I have a family of my own now and have a mortgage to pay and three children to put through university. Neither parent has so much as sent a birthday card to my children and clearly have abandoned their roles as "parents" or "grandparents". I would be outraged if I were ordered to pay support to either of these selfish deadbeats so that they could continue to feed their habits.
What about all the so called parents that have abandoned their children and babies?? Do those kids when they grow older get to search out who their biological parents are and sue them for money? This is ridiculous. Blood is blood, but if you yourself get caught in financial debt then you have no one to blame but yourself. Go on welfare, get a pension, get subsidized housing, stay at the salvation army or a woman's shelter....there are many options out there!
If these people were real parents their children would have no problem trying to help out as best they could, out of love...to return the favor. But what this woman is doing is greasy and selfish. Because she obviously has never had a job in her life and decided to leech off her husband, now she is going to do it to her children? Urgh disgusting. What a stupid thing to sue for. It is going to take away from these families and their children, so that old mama can pay off her credit card? LAME!
I think this law is completely ridiculous. If you are a good parent and raise your children well, they’ll support you when it is necessary. If you are a good parent and end up with terrible children (which does happen), you’ll know early on and banking on them as a retirement plan is obviously a bad idea. If you are a bad parent, you don’t deserve anything and shouldn’t get anything from your poor kids. No one good wins with this law
And I agree with Freeride Forever’s comment. Parents choose to have children for their own reasons, and it is their duty to be able to take care of themselves first and foremost before taking on the responsibility of another life.
What a unbelievably selfish woman. She abandons him, and feels he should pay for her stay at the hospital amongst other things.This guy made his life with out any help, financially or emotionally from her or his family. If anything they should have to pay him for a childhood of unnecessary hardship.
Clearly this women is delusional and unfit. Hopefully the judge will laugh this lawsuit out of court and recommend she spends some time in the mental health ward.
The reason parents use to have many children was that it was a higher probability that some would survive to adulthood and inturn a better the chance they had support in their old age. In the age of RRSP's and Old Age security.. people have done away with that tradition and opted to have one or two children instead. Well now with the failing old age security and the rise in the cost of living making it virtually impossible to save for retirement we have come full circle and parents are now looking for their children for support. I, myself, have been helped out by my parents well over the age of 18 and will not think twice of helping them when the time comes. But for the man in this story, Ken, I believe none of his siblings or himself should support a mother who apparently decided to abandon him before he was even legally allowed to live on his own. If she never worked a day in her life... was her choice (since we are not in the 1950's and women have the right to work) so be it on her to find a way to get out of debt like a grown woman should. My grandfather died very suddenly, leaving my grandmother (51 at the time of his death) with four children, the oldest being only 17 (my mother). She never worked a day in her life before that (except for her patriotic duty during the war) but she worked everyday as a clerk at a pharmacy and with assistance from my mother put three children through university. So to feel sorry for this woman who chose to pile debt instead of getting a job at walmart .. I am sorry I have none... she is just looking for another handout and really should be trying to strategize a way to get a hand up on her situation.
I would want to try and support my parents if they weren't able to take care of themselves.
What I have an issue with is companies going after me if my parents pay the bills. So does this mean that we'll have people divorcing their parents so companies don't have legal recourse against the children?
Secondly, as someone pointed out, if you do a good job as a parent, then chances are your kids will be more than happy to do what they can to help you in your old age. But if you ditch your kid and leave him to fend for himself at 15 (or even for those who can't wait to get rid of their kids and kick them out at 18), you don't have a right to expect support. You have a LEGAL obligation to financially support your children until they are 18. You also have a MORAL obligation to treat your children with love and respect and give them the tools they need to make it on their own in the world. If YOU make the decision to have children, you are the one with the obligation. The kid never asked to be born, and to be abandoned at 15.
For the most part, you get what you give in the long run. Shame on this so-called mother for abandoning her son, and now for suing for support.
Absolutely sad and disgusting. I am a strong believer that the PARENTS are supposed to be responsible for the welfare of their CHILDREN, and not the other way around. I strongly believe that parents who have children and choose to use them as a pension or retirement plan, are the kind of people who shouldn't have had children in the first place. My parents raised me and paid for everything from my first car, to my education and I plan on doing the same for my children, in the future.
I have always had a great relationship with both my mother and father. If one day (G*D forbid) either my mother or father gets sick, I know that I will do everything I can to help either one out. However, those who once abandoned their children deserve nothing more than spit in the face from their children. I am absolutely appalled by the fact that a mother who once abandoned her children would even dare to take advantage of such and outdated law, and seek some form of monthly care from her estranged children. This law, among others must be addressed immediately to protect people, like Ken and others who may be in the same situation. With the amount that we are over taxed in this great country we call Canada, shouldn't the welfare of an individual in desperate need of help be the responsibility of the Canadian Government?... I think so!
Perhaps I can hold a grudge, but if I were in the shoes of ken, I wouldn't pass a penny in the direction of the 'Mother," who abandoned me. After all, what has she ever done for him?
What are your favourite things to do in the summer?
Thanks for being one of the first people to vote. Results will be available soon. Check for results
- Go camping
- Visit a cottage
- Patio drinks
- Spend time in the sun
- Go boating
- Road trip
- All of the above
- None of the above