News

Woman loses bid to sue adult kids for parental support

A B.C. Supreme Court judge has dismissed a woman's lawsuit in which she attempted to sue her five long-estranged children for parental support.

Shirley Anderson started the suit in 2000 using a rarely used section of the Family Relations Act which allows for parents to claim support from their children due to "age, illness, infirmity or economic circumstances."

The section was repealed in 2011, largely as a result of the publicity around Anderson's case, which went ahead because it pre-dated the change.

The children say their mother abandoned them when they were teenagers and have been estranged for 20 or 30 years.

According to the judgment by B.C. Supreme Court Justice G. Bruce Butler, Shirley Anderson, 74, is dependent on government benefits to cover her expenses which include a rental apartment, home telephone, Internet, cell phone, cable, operation of a 1990 Chevrolet and a cat.

According to media reports, she wanted each of her five children to pay her $750 a month in support. She was receiving $10 a month as interim parental support pending the trial.

Of the five children—Donna Dobko of Burnaby, and Darrell, Brian, Kenneth and Keith Anderson—Brian died in 2010, Keith is currently unemployed and Darrell is legally blind after a welding accident while in prison. Anderson has "reconnected" with Darrell and did not pursue the claim against him, the judgment noted.

That left only Donna and Kenneth potentially able to support their mother, but Butler determined neither have the ability to support Anderson, taking into account their responsibilities, including supporting their own children, mortgages and future retirement needs.

However, even if the children had the ability to pay some support, Butler stressed that under the circumstances, he would not have ordered them to do so.

The children's father was injured in a serious truck accident when Donna was seven years old, the judgment said. When Anderson had difficulty coping with five young kids, she separated them, sending Donna and Brian to live with another family for almost two years, while Keith was bounced from relative to relative. The two youngest, Kenneth and Darrell, lived with their mother and grandmother.

Donna said her mother was "manipulative and psychologically abusive during her teenage years" and as a result, she moved away from Anderson's home when she was 17 and supported herself from then on.

Anderson has had little to do with her daughter since her marriage, provided no support when she was being treated for breast cancer, and has no relationship with her granddaughters. "While the claimant contacted Donna a few times over the years, it was only when she wanted money."

Kenneth, meanwhile, struggled with school and recalled receiving no support or assistance from his mom. And when he was in Grade 10 and his parents moved to Castlegar, he was placed with another dysfunctional family who received no financial support from Kenneth's parents.

Kenneth started supporting himself at age 16 by pumping gas. His employers at the gas station eventually took him in, providing room and board until he was 25 and treating him like a son.

When Kenneth married his wife, Sherry, Anderson began to deny being his mother and threatened to publish a story to that effect in the Osoyoos newspaper, the judgment said. As a result, Kenneth and Sherry have had no contact with her since 1995 and their two sons have had no relationship with Anderson.

While Anderson denied abandoning the children, claiming she found homes for them when she was unable to support them when her husband (who died in 1996) was unable to work, she did not deny the estrangement and allegations that she failed to provide emotional or financial support for her children, Butler noted.

"In her written argument she sums up her position as follows: 'the most that can be said by the children is that I did not treat them well; but ...I was not abusive to them.'"

Butler added, "The evidence of all of the respondent children describes an unhappy childhood at the hands of an uncaring mother. It is no coincidence that all of the children had similar experiences with the claimant."

If they had the financial means and he had to determine a level of support for Donna and Kenneth to provide, Butler said, their childhood experiences and the lengthy estrangement "which resulted from the claimant’s failure to parent the children in any meaningful way are sufficient to relieve the court from considering any moral claim by the claimant to a lifestyle similar to that of her children."

With all that considered, Butler concluded, "there is no reason to rank the claimant’s desire for more amenities above the needs of Donna and Kenneth."

Donna Dobko did not respond to a message requesting comment before the NewsLeader's deadline.

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