With rising life expectancy, there is a good chance your children will get to know their grandparents. There is a good chance your parents will live well past their sixties and that you will eventually live even longer than them. However, with economic uncertainty, poor saving rates, and retirements that are starting to last longer than working careers, more and more people are running out of money in their golden years. Medication and medical costs associated with longer life expectancies also eat into what little savings have been accumulated over the years, leaving some seniors destitute and desperate. Now, more and more are turning to the courts to force their children to pay parental support to help them through their financial troubles.
Parental Support, or Filial Responsibility, is not a new concept. Its origins go back to ancient Rome and was viewed as a matter of reciprocity: you take care of your children and they then take care of you. During the Great Depression, Poor Laws enforcing Filial Duty were more common and popular, but as governments began to intervene with the introduction of Social Security and other drug and health programs, the concept of family responsibility turned towards government responsibility. Now a days, only twenty-five states still have these laws on the books, and it is rarely, if ever, enforced.However, with the recent financial upheaval, thoughts are now turning back to this ancient concept.
There is a strong argument for enforcement: raising children is expensive and for many families, there is little money left over for saving for senior years. What if our retirement plan could also include the investment we made in our children? Of course the problem with this reasoning is that eventually our children will be raising their own children and they would be even more tightly squeezed financially if they must provide support for both the grandparents and the grandchildren.
This is an issue because of a recent case in British Columbia, Canada. There, mother who abandoned her youngest child at fifteen, is now seeking almost $300 per month each of her five children. In Pennsylvania, a unemployed father paying his mortgage and daughter’s college tuition, was successfully sued when his estranged mother skipped out on her hospital bill. He hadn’t spoken to her in years and did not even know she was in the hospital.
Ethically, we should care for our seniors. Our parents and grandparents made many sacrifices to raise the next generation. However, forcing children to provide financial support can place an unfair burden on the current generation of workers, especially if it is an only child or a small sibling group. Stronger laws protecting pensions and encouraging saving for our twilight years, along with government safety nets which spread the cost over all taxpayers, are far more reliable, and do not depend on the financial solvency or the capricious nature of parent child relationships.
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