Are Parents Obliged to Support an Adult Child with Addictions?
In an older case called G. (R.W.) v. G. (S.I.), the court considered an interesting question: does an adult child’s drug and alcohol addiction render his or her parents legally obliged to provide financial support even after the age of majority?
In this case the son was 26 years old, and although he was attending university, he had drug and alcohol addictions which he denied and for which he refused to take any responsibility.
The father – a successful businessman who had earned more than $800,000 in the year prior – had voluntarily supported his son well past the age of majority. However, the question for the court was whether he had a legal obligation to continue to do so in light of his adult son’s addictions, which arguably made him still a “child of the marriage” under the provisions of the Divorce Act.
The court wrote:
The father places emphasis on freedom of choice and the notion that an adult child who chooses an independent lifestyle free of parental control must be taken to have voluntarily withdrawn from parental charge. … The other side of the coin, for purposes of s. 2(1)(b) of the Divorce Act, is whether a child is unable to withdraw or to obtain the necessaries of life by reason of illness, disability or other cause.
It is commonly accepted that addiction is a disease. To speak of the condition as voluntary ignores the biological or physiological roots of addiction, the influences of heredity, predisposition, societal and peer pressures, and the disparities in the availability and quality of treatment. Nonetheless, it is a treatable illness. Freedom of choice has more significance on the aspect of willingness to accept treatment. Where responsibilities exist to make reasonable efforts to achieve self-sufficiency — and such responsibilities apply to an adult child… — the courts have not condoned chronic financial dependence in cases where individuals refuse to help themselves.
The court added that the adult son had not been financially dependent on the father for a legally-acceptable reason, and he was not a “child of the marriage” since he refused to accept treatment for his addictions or even acknowledge them:
The evidence indicates the son has been in prolonged denial. He has not always taken treatment willingly and absent a threat of compulsion. He has had the best treatment available, as early as 1994, and he has been given the tools, and the knowledge not available to those less fortunate, to assist him in the management of his condition. This was provided at significant cost to the father. The son squandered many of the opportunities available to him in the form of sports scholarships, employment in the father’s business and higher education in his unwillingness to face his addictions and embrace recovery. As late as 2001 he underwent institutional treatment only when faced with ultimatums.
The solution in this particular case, the court found, was to withdraw the father’s financial support to “coerce” the son to stand on his own and to take responsibility for his addictions and circumstances:
In the case of addictions, chronic dependency must often be addressed by coercive measures. … There is … a concern that the son, in his efforts to achieve functional independence, avoid the security of a fall back position, or the comfort of a safety net in the form of guaranteed support.
Although this case does not establish a hard-and-fast rule for all scenarios, it emphasizes that even when adult children are still in school well past the age of majority, there is a point at which most courts will lay responsibility at the child’s own feet, rather than force the parent to shoulder the child’s financial obligations indefinitely.
For the full text of the decision see:
G. (R.W.) v. G. (S.I.), 2002 SKQB 167 (CanLII)