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Parent as “Nothing More Than a Wallet”

wallet

Parent as “Nothing More Than a Wallet”

A while ago, I highlighted some cases in  our blog Do You Have an Obligation to Support a Child Who Wants Nothing to Do With You?  which examined whether a parent’s obligation to support a child can be affected by the fact that the relationship between parent and child is strained or irreparably broken.

These kinds of cases are glibly referred to as being of the “parent as wallet” variety; a recent case called Veneman v. Veneman is one of them. The question before the court was whether the father should be obliged to continuing paying child support in connection with the post-secondary education expenses of the couple’s 19-year-old daughter. The wrinkle in the story was that the daughter – despite the father’s efforts – wanted nothing to do with him. The father felt that he was entitled to be relieved of his usual support obligation in the circumstances.

In evaluating the father’s application, the court considered an earlier Ontario case, called Nitkin v. Nitkin, which was similar. The court in that case summed up the father’s position as follows:

Mr. Nitkin feels that in the absence of any just cause for terminating her relationship with him, he is viewed as nothing more than “a wallet” or cash machine by Brenna and her mother. He submits that Mrs. Nitkin-Siegal’s alienating influences have resulted in Brenna rejecting him. No court has found Mr. Nitkin’s conduct to be deserving of this result.

The court in Nitkin had found that the daughter was a “mature young lady” of 18 who had nonetheless unilaterally terminated the relationship with her father without any apparent reason. This played into the court’s evaluation of whether the daughter was still a “child of the marriage”, and by extension whether the father still had support obligations toward her. After taking into account the daughter’s current efforts and future plans for university education, and her financial dependence, the court found that she was still a “child of the marriage” requiring the father’s support, despite the fact that her relationship with him had been unilaterally severed.

Returning to the more recent Veneman case, the court took arrived at the same conclusion, but for different reasons. First of all, the court attributed appropriate blame on both parties for the estrangement of the 19-year old daughter as well as their other younger child. The court wrote:

I certainly appreciate and understand the view advanced by [the father’s lawyers]. Once a child has become an adult, and he or she chooses to have no relationship whatsoever with a parent, one can easily sympathize with the parent’s view that it is unfair to require any further financial contribution to the child’s welfare. As noted by Professor James McLeod in an annotation to Filice v. Lepore … “A parent has a right to be more than a wallet.”

In this case, there can be no question that Mr. Veneman is nothing more than a wallet. While the allocation of fault or blame for situations of this sort is difficult, at best, it seems to me that in this case both parents must assume a share of the blame.

While Ms. Veneman denied it in her evidence before me, I think it is clear that she allowed her view of Mr. Veneman’s new companion to rub off on her children. When she became apprised of the relationship, she knew nothing more about Ms. Gore than the fact that she had met Mr. Veneman over the internet and that she had children of her own. This was hardly enough reason to refer to her as an “Internet Whore”. Many people seeking companionship meet over the internet, and some solid relationships, including this one, develop. It is clear from Ms. Veneman’s email communications that she did not want Ms. Gore associating with her children. I have no doubt that the children understood this, and responded accordingly. They knew nothing more about Ms. Gore than their mother did.

Mr. Veneman’s attempts to foster a meeting between his children and Ms. Gore were admittedly clumsy and insensitive. It is not unusual for young girls to undergo emotional turmoil when their father develops a new relationship. He should have handled the situation better. However, hundreds of new relationships are developed every year. Almost invariably, children adapt to the new circumstances, even if their parents’ attempts to introduce new partners are handled in less than ideal ways.

In the final analysis, the rupture of the relationship here is entirely irrational, and could and should have been avoided.

I have no doubt that in due course, perhaps later in their adulthood, the children will come to wonder why they hate their father so much. They will have no good answer. Their father did not beat them, or ignore them. Indeed, he made superhuman efforts to reach out to them.

Nonetheless, the court observed that the father had consented to paying support despite the parent-child rift — and indeed at a time when that situation of estrangement was already in place. There was no legal reason to change that obligation now. However, the court did add that the daughter must contribute more than a nominal amount towards her own education; specifically she was ordered to pay 75% of the approximately $10,000 she herself earned in part-time employment.

For the full text of the decisions, see:

Veneman v. Veneman, 2012 ONSC 6324  http://canlii.ca/t/ftss5

Nitkin v. Nitkin, 2006 CanLII 23153 (Ont. S.C.J.)  http://canlii.ca/t/1nwn7

At Russell Alexander, Family Lawyers our focus is exclusively family law, offering pre-separation legal advice and assisting clients with family related issues including: custody and access, separation agreements, child and spousal support, division of family property, paternity disputes, and enforcement of court orders. For more information, visit us at www.RussellAlexander.com.