“Boomerang Parents” – Top 5 Things to Know About Children Supporting Their Own Parents
Many blogs have been written about the obligation of parents to support their children. Less common are the blogs that address the converse situation: the obligation on children to support their own parents. This can arise in situations where the parents – due to age, infirmity or other circumstances – are unable to provide financially for their own needs and care.
At present, this scenario arises only seldom, relatively speaking. However, it may become an increasingly important topic as the “boomer” generation ages, and as the average age of the general population inches upward.
Here are the top five points to know about the legal obligation in Ontario on children to support their parents:
1. “Child” really means “adult”
For these purposes the word “child” is really synonymous with “adult child”, because the support obligation is only imposed on those over the age of majority. This age threshold, together with the support obligation itself, are both established by provincial law, namely the Ontario Family Law Act which states:
32. Every child who is not a minor has an obligation to provide support, in accordance with need, for his or her parent who has cared for or provided support for the child, to the extent that the child is capable of doing so.
2. “Parent” can include a lot of people.
The obligation to support a parent can extend not only to a biological parent, but also to a parent who has cared for or provided support for the child. In cases where the parents are separated or divorced, this will include both custodial and non-custodial parents. In a case called Belanger v. Belanger a grandmother who demonstrated the intention to treat the children as her own qualified as a “parent” for these purposes.
3. Child and spousal support comes first.
A child’s legal obligation to support other individuals, such as his/her spouse or own children, will take priority over any obligation to support a parent. In other words, parents requiring support will only have access to any funds that may remain after the needs of their grandchildren and son-in-law/daughter-in-law are met.
4. Need and ability to pay governs.
As with other kinds of support applications under the Family Law Act, the outcome will depend on both the (recipient) parents’ need, and the (payor) child’s ability to pay. This will depend on a large number of factors; support entitlement is not automatic.
5. Bad parents can still apply.
A parent who is potentially entitled to support may make an application to an Ontario court to have the obligation imposed and enforced. A parent’s right to claim and receive support is unaffected by the quality of care and upbringing they themselves provided to those same children from whom they now seek support. In a case called Godwin v. Bolsco, a mother succeeded in obtaining support despite the arguments of her children that the care she gave them while growing up was well below community standards.
For the full text of these decisions, see: Belanger v. Belanger (2005), http://bit.ly/eKrAjr and Godwin v. Bolsco (1993), 45 R.F.L. (3d) 310 (Ont. Prov. Div.); affirmed (1996), 20 R.F.L. (4th) 66 (Ont. C.A.) §327