Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Filial Responsibility Law: Canadian Mother Who Abandoned Children Now Suing Them For Financial Support Under British Columbia's Family Relations Act

Here's something I didn't know, and perhaps you were also not aware of it as well. If your parents abandoned you or abused you when you were a child, they or the governing jurisdiction can sue you for financial support when they become old and indigent. And because of filial responsibility laws in every Canadian province but Alberta and 30 U.S. states, such suits will at least have legal standing if other conditions are met, meaning they won't be summarily dismissed due to lack of merit. Even if you successfully defend against the suit, you may still be out the money you paid for a legal defense. Furthermore, filial statutes may still apply even when the children live in another state that doesn't have a similar law.

In British Columbia, 73-year-old Shirley Anderson has been pursuing litigation against her three adult children since 2000, asking for $750 per month in support from each of them. One of them, 47-year-old Ken Anderson, was the subject of a story by CBC News on September 20th, 2011. Ken Anderson is contesting the suit because Shirley abandoned him and his siblings when they were teens. Ken says he was left behind at 15 when his parents and younger brother moved from Osoyoos to the Kootenays; he lived with other families and quit school to find work. Ken explained "We don't have a relationship. I haven't talked to her in years and years and years...She's just out to make our life miserable."

On September 19th, Ken Anderson's lawyer asked a judge to throw out the case because Shirley has not submitted financial documents ordered by the court; the judge has not yet ruled on this motion. But note that the suit has been allowed to go forward because of a rarely-used section of B.C.'s Family Relations Act which specifies that adult children are responsible for legally supporting parents who are dependent on a child because of age, illness, infirmity or economic circumstances. This is known as a "filial responsibility law". The B.C. Law Institute recommended repealing the section in a 2007 report.

British Columbia is not alone in having this law on its books. Donna Anderson reported back on January 17th that every Canadian province except for Alberta has similar laws. The Advocacy Center for the Elderly supports the application of filial responsibility laws to the adult children of elderly parents.

The story has attracted significant public interest. An unscientific poll shows that 69.6 percent of respondents so far oppose any legal requirement for adult children to support their parents financially. The original story has attracted 395 comments so far, most in opposition. Even those favoring such a law do not want it to be unconditional; they don't think parents who abandoned or abused their kids as youths should be entitled to their financial support.

Thirty U.S. states also have filial responsibility laws requiring adult children to support elderly parents; they include Alaska, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia. These laws vary greatly in scope and application; actions may be launched by states, nursing homes, and individuals. Liability can be civil, criminal, or both. In the past, these laws have only been infrequently enforced. However, as costs for elder care, to include Medicare and Medicaid, continue to rise, we can not only expect an increase in cases, but more states and perhaps the federal government might join the list. Lawyers.com references two cases in Pennsylvania, with their disparate outcomes:

Alaska is one of the thirty U.S. states applying filial responsibility laws to the adult children of elderly parents. Alaska statutes allow the state or a municipality to bring civil action. The three applicable statutes are presented below:

  • AS 25.20.030. Duty of parent and child to maintain each other. Each parent is bound to maintain the parent's children when poor and unable to work to maintain themselves. Each child is bound to maintain the child's parents in like circumstances.
  • AS 47.25.230. Persons liable for support and burial. Every needy person shall be supported while living and upon dying, shall be given a decent burial by the spouse, children, parents, grandparents, grandchildren, or siblings of the needy person, if they, or any of them, have the ability to do so, in the order named. Every designated person who fails to support the needy person when directed by the department to do so, or fails to give the needy person a decent burial shall reimburse the state or a municipality for the funds expended by either the state or a municipality for the relief or burial of the needy person, and these sums with interest and costs may be recovered by the state or a municipality of the state in a civil action.
  • AS 47.25.240. Action against person liable for care of recipient. If, during the continuance of an allowance, the department ascertains that a person liable for the support of the recipient of assistance is able to provide the necessary care and support of the recipient, and the person liable for the care and support of the recipient fails or refuses to support and care for the recipient, the state has a claim for the assistance against the person liable for it. This claim may be enforced by civil action brought in the name of the state by the attorney general against the person liable for the recovery of the amount of money, with interest, paid to the recipient, together with the costs and disbursements of the action.

Alaskan statutes do not appear to deny standing to the state or municipality in the case of an elderly parent who abandoned or abused an adult child as a youth. Consequently, it's unlikely that a defendant could get such a case summarily dismissed due to lack of merit; he or she would have to show in court that he or she was victimized by the parent as a child. It is doubtful that any judge would require someone who was sexually abused by parents as a child to pay for the support of those parents; such a judge would be instantly targeted for defeat in the next retention election.

3 comments:

  1. No idea such laws existed.

    Oddly enough, my wife and three of her siblings have been chipping in, an equal amount, to support a mentally disturbed parent. She surfaced after a couple of decades on the road. One other sibling cannot help, and the ex-husband has declined to help.

    This sort of thing is best done voluntarily. I don't see where the state, or a caring facility, has a claim on any family members. Nobody asked them to undertake any financial burden. If they want to provide care, then they can pay it for it.

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  2. Lowly - if you didn't know such laws existed, then that means MANY other people are not aware of them. I certainly wasn't aware of them.

    Hat tip to your wife and her three siblings for chipping in voluntarily. They will reap rewards for their efforts, and I suspect most of those rewards will be delivered in the next world.

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  3. Idaho and New Hampshire have repealed their filial responsibility laws.

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