Adult Support Obligations of Elderly Parents – Part I
Today’s BLOG will consider the issue of an adult child’s obligation to support a parent(s), who is financially destitute.
Unfortunately, we hear all too often of an elderly person living in poverty. While it is widely recognized and accepted that a parent has an obligation to financially support a minor child, it is less known that the law may impose an obligation on an adult child to financially support a parent.
The Parents’ Maintenance Act was originally enacted in 1921. It was eventually superseded by section 17 of the Family Law Reform Act, which was, in turn, superseded by section 32 of the Family Law Act (the “FLA”). However, applications for support are extremely rare and there is little case law. However, the case of Godwin v. Bolcso  O.P.J. No. 297 provides some insight into when support will be ordered for parents. Today, I will discuss the facts. Tomorrow, I will discuss the law and the court’s decision.
Veronica Godwin was born September 18, 1934. She applied for support under section 32 of the FLA against four of her adult children. The only issue was whether the children were liable to pay support. Section 32 of the FLA states as follows:
Every child who is not a minor has an obligation to provide support, in accordance with need, for his or her parent who cared for or provided support for the child, to the extent that the child is capable of doing so.
The adult children took the position that Veronica’s care and support of them was so substandard when they were children that it fell far below generally accepted parenting norms. As a result, the children argued that the test in section 32 was not met. For her part, Veronica maintained that she had adequately provided and cared for her children to the best of her ability.
In considering the evidence, the court held that there was no evidence of Veronica being selfish or lazy or putting her own needs ahead of her children. There were many things that Veronica did for her sons and daughters. For example, the children took part in extracurricular activities. Moreover, all family members shared in the maintenance of the household – cleaning, laundry, meal preparation and vegetable gardening. While the family moved frequently, all the homes that they lived in were suitable single-family dwellings where the children sometimes shared bedrooms, had a yard in which to play, and were near schools.
There was no evidence according to the court of the family being supported emotionally or financially by relatives or friends. According to the court, more modern concepts of imbuing in children a sense of self-worth and self-confidence were not widely accepted in the 1950s and 1960s, if discussed at all. What the family concentrated on was financial survival.
The adult children complained, sometimes bitterly, that they were not raised in a warm, nurturing home. The adult children claimed that their mother was suspicious of authority, secretive, a chronic complainer, critical of others, set in her ways, and not open to their viewpoints.
In considering the evidence, the court recognized that children could not always be expected to recall incidents of early childhood as well as their parents. Some may not even recall their childhood at all. Furthermore, an adult’s early childhood recollections could also be misconstrued after so many years, or facts may have existed that were unknown to a child at the time of occurrence.
Have a good day.
Justin de Vries.