B.C. court rejects mom’s claim of financial support from estranged children

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

A B.C. court ruling this week that denies an elderly woman financial support from her grown children gives us a revealing look into how tragedy can fracture a family.

Shirley Marie Anderson admitted she wasn't the best mother to her five children when they were growing up. But Anderson, who lives in the Kootenay region of southeastern B.C., claimed she was entitled to their financial support now because she subsists on meagre pension payments.

But a B.C. Supreme Court judge decided this week that three of her four surviving children, Donna Lee Anderson Dobko, Keith Warren Anderson and Kenneth Wayne Anderson, don't have to pay. A fourth son, blinded in a welding accident, was dropped from the suit.

The judge said the others earn modest incomes and have financial obligations of their own that would make it difficult to support her. And even if they didn't, Anderson's neglect of her children minimizes any obligation they may have had to help her.

Anderson, now 74, first launched court action against her children in 2000 and renewed it in 2008. The children fought a previous order that they each pay $10 a month to their mother under a section of the Family Relations Act that makes children liable to support dependent parents because of age, illness or economic circumstances, CHBC News noted.

Justice Bruce Butler's decision, released Thursday, chronicles the breakdown of a family after a tragedy. Anderson's husband was badly hurt in an truck accident and could not work for a long time. She couldn't cope and farmed out the kids to other families at various times. When they were together, Anderson was manipulative, abusive and neglectful, according to evidence in Butler's decision.

Later when they were teenagers, Anderson left them to cope by themselves and they remained estranged for decades, having troubled lives of their own, the judge noted.

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"The claimant’s argument can be summarized succinctly," Butler writes. "She says that none of the respondents’ claims amount to allegations of child abuse.

"She denies she abandoned them but admits that she did not provide support to them at various times during their childhood. 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 said the case did not require him to rule on whether the children were abandoned but noted the evidence suggests she may have a psychological disorder.

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

"While I cannot conclude that the claimant abandoned her children, I can conclude that she did not nurture or support them as children. She was ready and willing to leave them to the care of others when it suited her purposes. The resulting estrangement when the children became adults was entirely her fault."

Butler found that the various government benefits Anderson receives allow her to live "in a reasonable manner," including cable TV, Internet, a cell phone and an older car.

He dismissed Anderson's claim and ordered her to pay her children's court costs.