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Mothers and children shouldn’t expect if they don’t respect

May, 2011

When you were a child, your mother (and father) had a duty to act for you, fight for you, manage everything for you, keep you safe, support you, supervise and educate you.

She had authority over you. You had a duty to respect her. When the child reaches adulthood, what changes? What are her obligations toward you and you toward her? You still have an obligation to respect her and, if there is need, you may have an obligation to support her. She may have an obligation to contribute toward your support, as well. In either case, it is real need that will be considered rather than the standard of living toward which either of you may aspire. However, as an adult, your duty to respect your parents and their obligation to contribute toward your expenses may be intertwined!

Oscar Wilde said: “Children begin by loving their parents, after a time they judge them, rarely, if ever, do they forgive them.” Now, more than a century later, when we look at the case law, this quote seems to apply both ways.

Recently, a judge of the Superior Court of Quebec said a mother no longer needed to help support her 20-year-old son, a student with whom she had had no contact for more than six years. The judge took into account the son’s real needs rather than the standard of living to which he aspired and said that although it is true the mother had an obligation of support toward her son, he had a moral obligation toward her. By refusing to communicate with her, he had failed to exercise that obligation and she therefore had no obligation to contribute toward his needs.

In a similar case, a 19-year-old student left his mother’s house before graduation on the ground that she was too strict. He moved in with a relative. He refused to communicate with his mother and asked the courts to order her to pay support while he worked toward a diploma. The mother had sufficient revenue to contribute to her son’s income. However, the judge considered his behaviour toward her deplorable and in violation of his obligation to show her respect. Consequently, the amount she was ordered to give was minimal and would be annulled at such time as her son ceased pursuing his studies on a full-time basis.

In one case, a university student took the separation of her parents badly and unilaterally severed all relations with her father. When she claimed support from both parents, the judge held that, although her behaviour toward her father might have been understandable for a certain period of time following the separation, it no longer was. Her father had made an effort to reconcile and had always exercised his financial obligations. Her attitude toward him bordered on ingratitude and given the circumstances, the judge refused her request to obtain support from him.

A child’s right to parental support can continue into adulthood. His duty of respect lasts a lifetime and the courts have used ingratitude as a reason to refuse or reduce the support it orders the parent to pay. An adult child may also have a financial obligation toward his parent. There are cases where the courts have ordered a child to pay support to a parent or to house and feed the parent in fulfillment of that obligation. In one such instance, a mother had wasted a lump sum granted at the time of her divorce. The judge held she was capable of working but could not be left destitute and ordered her children to support her for a limited time so that she could find a job.

In another case, the children used the behaviour of a parent toward them as grounds for refusing to provide support. The judge refused to override the obligation as there was no provision in the law on which he could base himself to accept such a defense. Failure of the parent to properly care for and provide a healthy home for the child was not considered a justifiable reason for refusing the support. Unworthiness was not a defense to a request for support by a parent to a child. In another case, however, support was refused where the parent had been violent and made life a living hell for the child.

Our law creates an obligation of support between parents and children and between spouses; it does not provide for mutual support between siblings or between other members of an extended family. The legal system does not concern itself with love, but we know that parents and children often support each other, not because the law requires them to, but out of love.

And that’s what Mother’s Day is all about—an expression of love for one’s mother.



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