Moral Obligations, Dependant’s Support, and Rebellious Teens
Many teenagers fantasize about running away from home at some point in their lives. Few actually do it. Fewer still go so far as to sue their parents for support once they have left the home.
A news story out of New Jersey is centred around a high school student who is seeking to have her parents ordered to pay for her college education. The 18-year-old student claims that her parents have abandoned her and have stopped paying her tuition. Her parents claim that she moved out because she is refusing to follow household rules. Central to the dispute are New Jersey’s laws surrounding the emancipation of children and the issue of what obligations are owed between parents and children.
While the ultimate result of this litigation is difficult to predict at this time, it confronts the issue of a parent’s moral obligation to his or her child and how far it may be extended.
In the Ontario, we see this issue arise with respect to claims for the support of dependants against the estate of a deceased family member.
The Supreme Court of Canada confirmed in Tataryn v. Tataryn Estate that a testator’s moral duties toward his or her spouse and children are relevant considerations in determining what is adequate support. There, the Court was dealing with a dispute under British Columbia’s Wills Variation Act.
In Ontario, dependant’s support is governed by Part V of the Succession Law Reform Act. Our own Act is worded differently than BC’s, leading to initial disagreement about whether and how Tataryn Estate would apply in Ontario.
This disagreement was put to rest by the case of Cummings v. Cummings, which held that a testator’s moral obligations, as well as need and legal and ethical obligations, are relevant in Ontario to the question of whether a deceased has made adequate provision for the proper support of his or her dependants.
Ontario’s Succession Law Reform Act defines a dependant at s. 57. The dependant must be a spouse, a parent, a grandparent, a child, a grandchild, or a sibling (although some of these have modified definitions). In order to qualify, the deceased must have been providing support or have been under a legal obligation to provide support to the individual immediately before his or her death.
While all of the parties in the New Jersey case above are alive and well, similar social issues are at the heart of the matter. How much support are family members expected to provide for one another? When do these obligations end? At age 18? When the child moves out? When the child becomes self-sufficient? It seems that New Jersey may receive some pronouncement on this issue from the courts in the near future. The question is central to the lives of families everywhere and to the hearts and minds of rebellious teenagers.