Saturday, March 31, 2007

B.C. Law Institute Recommends Abolition of Obligation to Support a Parent

I suspect few people in British Columbia realize that there is an obligation for a child to support a parent in some circumstances. This is set out in s. 90 of the Family Relations Act, RSBC 1996, c. 128, which says:

90 (1) In this section:
"child" means an adult child of a parent;
"parent" means a father or mother dependent on a child because of age, illness, infirmity or economic circumstances.
(2) A child is liable to maintain and support a parent having regard to the other responsibilities and liabilities and the reasonable needs of the child.

This provision is not something I have ever dealt with in my practice, and I don't think there are very many cases. A leading case is Newson v. Newson, 1998 CanLII 6440 (B.C.C.A.)

In a report published March 2007, entitled Report on the Parental Support Obligation in Section 90 of the Family Relations Act, the British Columbia Law Institute recommends abolishing this provision. The report's author's reasons include the following:

In our view, this debate ultimately resolves itself in favour of repealing British Columbia’s parental support law, section 90 of the Family Relations Act. The moral impulse that many children have to assist their parents in times of need is noble, but any attempt to give this impulse the force of law is misguided. Parental support legislation creates mischief for older adults, their families, and the general public, and this mischief cannot be completely remedied by amending the legislation.

Section 90 has been rarely used in the past and it will likely continue to languish in the future, because it is based on a fundamental contradiction. Litigation is too costly, time consuming, and complicated to be an effective method to deliver relief to the poor. Repealing section 90 will not deprive the poor of a practical tool to better their lot.

On a more philosophical level, retaining parental support as part of a reformed Family Relations Act would be problematic. It would implicitly endorse a model of combating poverty, especially among older adults, that focuses on dependency and private action.

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