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Court decides Oliver man doesn't have to support estranged mother

A woman has lost a lawsuit looking for parental support from three of her adult children, including one who resides in the South Okanagan.

Donna Dobko (53), Keith Anderson (51) and Oliver man Kenneth Anderson (48) said they were estranged by their mother Shirley Marie Anderson when they were just teenagers and do not have any moral obligation, nor the financial means to provide the 74-year-old support. After fighting in court with their mother for over 10 years, a Justice decided in Supreme Court on Jan. 30 they do not have to pay.

Justice Bruce Butler agreed with the adult children's claims of estrangement and moral obligation and found Donna and Kenneth to have reasonable income and some assets but not the surplus to provide support to their mother. He said they cannot put the needs of their mother ahead of their own children. The Justice added he had "no doubt" Keith, who lost his job, couldn't support the mother.

"In all the circumstances of this case, including the lengthy estrangement of the claimant and the respondents, there is no reason to rank the claimant's desire for more amenities above the needs of Donna and Kenneth. Accordingly, even if I had concluded that they had an ability to provide some support to the claimant, I would have declined to order any support," said Justice Butler in his decision made at the Vancouver courthouse.

Children speak of estrangement

Anderson launched the action against her children in July 2000 claiming she could not support herself.  The Supreme Court made an interim parental support pending the trial of the action ordering that each of her five children pay $10 per month to their 74-year-old mother. An appeal of the order in 2001 was dismissed and no further steps were taken in the proceedings until May 2008 when Anderson filed a notice of intention to proceed. One of her children had since died and another was injured in a welding accident while in prison and is legally blind. Anderson told the court they have reconnected and she did not pursue the claim against him.

Evidence was heard that the children's father suffered a serious accident and the mother had difficulty coping with five young children and separated them. Two went to live with a family in Salmo for almost two years, another bounced from relative to relative and the two youngest, including Kenneth, lived with their mother and grandmother.

Donna said the only time she had any contact with her mother was when Shirley needed money. Kenneth said his mother provide little supervision or support and frequently locked herself in the bathroom and told them she was going to swallow pills and end her life. When he was in Grade 10, his parents moved to Castlegar and he stayed in Osoyoos to finish school. He said he pumped gas when he was 16 to support himself, eventually receiving support in the form of room and board from the couple who employed him. He stay with them until he was 25 and said they treated him as a son. Kenneth said when he was about to be married, his mother began to deny he was her son and threatened to publish a story about it in the Osoyoos paper. As a result Kenneth, his wife and their children who all still live in Oliver, have had no contact with Shirley since 1995.

Shirley took issue with the claims of abandonment stating she just found homes for them when she was unable to support them given her husband's inability to work. She said Kenneth was rebellious and made his own decision to stay in Osoyoos. Shirley didn't deny allegations she failed to provide emotional or financial support to them.

"The most that can be said by the children is that I did not treat them well; but … I was not abusive to them," said Shirley in her written argument.

Justice Butler concluded the mother 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. She made no attempt to foster relationships with her adult children, including Donna and Kenneth," said Butler.

Financial troubles

Amongst his reasons, Butler said Shirley did not provide adequate documentation of her financial situation. She did show information that from 2009 to 2011 she received CPP and OAS payments as well as some other government benefits which helped pay for her home phone, internet access, cable television, a cell phone, a 1990 Chevrolet and food for herself and her cat.

"Her lack of production stands out given the steps taken by the respondents to comply with the court order," said Butler. "As a result, I must regard her evidence about her personal expenses with some caution."

Some of her debt was shown to be accrued from credit cards while another $10,000 was arising from unsuccessful litigation with a housing co-operative of which she was a member. The Justice ignored her claim that she could not work because of medical reasons because the doctors letter she provided as evidence did not meet the requirements to be admissible.

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