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:
- A nursing home sued the son of a resident-patient who could no longer pay for her nursing home care. He didn't hire an attorney, ignored the suit and the home won by getting an $8,000 default judgment against him
- A daughter was sued for over $300,000 for her parents' nursing home care. The nursing home lost because her attorney proved she couldn't afford to pay the bill
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.