Christine Ashbourne, Associate
It will likely come as no surprise to some readers to learn that Canadian “Baby Boomers” — many of whom have already reached the threshold of “senior citizen” — are going to encounter a difficult financial road in the coming decades. This unwelcome forecast seems to be the result of a perfect storm of factors, many of which only recently came to light. For instance, in the federal budget that was delivered on March 29, 2012, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced that beginning on April 1, 2023, the age for eligibility for Old Age Security pensions would be gradually increased from 65 to 67. Other recent developments that might threaten the Boomers’ continued financial independence include the steady rise in the number of “grey divorces” as well as the likelihood that many Canadians might manage to outlive their retirement savings.
In the event that a Baby Boomer or other senior citizen is left without sufficient financial means to ensure his or her day-to-day needs, who should cover the shortfall? While many might be quick to respond that such a task should fall to one level or other of the Canadian government, financial support for impoverished or cash-strapped seniors may increasingly come out of the pockets of their children. That’s right — just as there is a legal responsibility for parents to provide financial support for their children, so too does there exist an obligation on the part of adult children to maintain their financially deficient parents.
The obligation to support one’s parents (also known as “filial support”) is enshrined in the family law legislation of all of the Canadian provinces save for Alberta, which repealed that section from its Family Law Act, S.A. 2003, c. F-4.5, in 2005. In Ontario, the filial support obligation is currently set out in s. 32 of the Family Law Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. F.3.:
“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.”
Now, before you decide to stop answering your front door out of fear that your parents might show up at any moment with their arms outstretched and their hands open, take note of the qualifications outlined in the above provision. An application by a parent under s. 32 of the Ontario Family Law Act will likely only be successful where the following three questions are answered in the affirmative:
- Has the parent who is seeking the support demonstrated financial need?
- Did the parent provide past care or support to the child who is now the target of the potential support order?
- Does the prospective payor child have the ability to pay support?
To date, very few s. 32 applications have been adjudicated in Ontario; indeed, in the 1993 decision of Dunn J. in Godwin v. Bolcso (1993), 45 R.F.L. (3d) 310 (Ont. C.J. (Prov. Div.)), aff’d (1995), 16 R.F.L. (4th) 419 (Ont. C.A.), it was observed at para. 1 that s. 32 had at that time “generated less than a dozen reported and unreported cases”. While the jurisprudence on this subject may still be scant, as noted above, the rocky financial climate that awaits the aging Boomers may mean that claims for filial support will eventually become more commonplace.
Assuming that a Boomer or other aged parent is able to establish entitlement to filial support, another new and competing demographic phenomenon may work to undermine the parent’s claim: that is, the so-called “boomerang effect”. In brief, the “boomerang effect” refers to the fact that many young adults are currently unable to find work following the completion of their post-secondary studies and so, they are returning en masse to live in their parents’ homes. As a result of their delayed entry into financial independence, the ability of these young people to pay filial support may be permanently compromised, or at least temporarily stunted. It will be interesting to see whether in the coming years there is in fact a surge in filial support claims and if so, whether the Boomers are able to collect.
For anyone who is interested in doing any further reading on this subject, I relied on and consulted the following sources in composing this blog entry:
- Bala, Nicholas, Martha Shaffer & Christine Ashbourne, “Family Law for the Older Canadian” in Ann Soden, ed., Advising the Older Client, 2d ed. (forthcoming).
- Burnett-Nichols, Helen. “My parent’s keeper” Canadian Lawyer Magazine (March 2011), online: http://www.canadianlawyermag.com/my-parents-keeper.html
- Nguyen, Linda. “Rising ‘grey divorce’ rates create financial havoc for seniors”, The Globe and Mail (19 September 2012) online: The Globe and Mail http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/rising-grey-divorce-rates-create-financial-havoc-for-seniors/article4553219/