Friday, November 20, 2015
Filial Friday: Court Finds Less Than "Ideal" Childhood Not Enough to Release Duty to Support Indigent Parent
It is, perhaps, a mark of the growing acceptance of filial support obligations in Pennsylvania courts -- although not necessarily equating with understanding by the general public in Pennsylvania -- that a recent appeal from a filial support ruling resulted merely in a "nonprecedential" opinion by the appellate court, one that adopts the findings of the lower court.
In Eori v. Eori, 2015 WL 6736193, (Aug. 7, 2015) the Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the trial court's award of $400 per month in support with a short opinion. This ruling obligates one son, the defendant, to contribute financially towards the care of his 90-year old mother, being provided in the home of another brother. The incorporated findings of fact, from the lower court, track a sad family story. One point in dispute was whether the mother's alleged actions during the son's childhood constituted the defense of "abandonment":
Defendant’s next error complained of on appeal pertains to the second defense Outlined in 23 Pa. C.S.A. Section 4603(2)(ii), which negates the obligation of filial support when it is established that the parent seeking support abandoned the child during a ten year period of the child’s minority. In this case, the Defendant argued that he was abandoned and raised as error number six that the trial court failed to consider said testimony. The term “abandoned” is not defined in the act itself, However, the Custody Act at 23 Pa.C.S.A. Section 5402 defines “abandoned” as “left without provision for reasonable and necessary care or supervision.” Defendant testified that he did not have the greatest family growing up and he wanted to get away. . . . He testified that his grandmother cared for him more than his Mother; however, they were never far apart because he testified that his grandmother either lived with Mother or beside Mother. . . . Although he testified that Mother was abusive, left and caused them to move many times, and was either gone or fighting, he never established that she left for a ten year period. He did not provide details or time periods on any of the testimony presented.
The lower court concluded: "Therefore, it was not clear from [son's] testimony that Mother ever left for a ten year period without provision for his reasonable and necessary care or supervision. Although it may not have been an ideal childhood, there was no evidence of abandonment to release Defendant from his obligation to support Mother."
Procedural note: In Pennsylvania, trial judges have the option of waiting to write "opinions" explaining their "orders" until after a notice of appeal is filed by a party. Pennsylvania Rule of Appellate Procedure, Rule 1925. Further, the trial judge can also require the appealing party to file a "statement of errors," in advance of the trial judge's obligation to write an opinion. I don't know how many states use this process, but certainly by comparison to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, it is a rather unique opportunity for judges to write an opinion, as did the trial judge in the Eori case, that, in essence, expresses views on the merits of the "appeal."
For those gathering together as family for Thanksgiving next week, perhaps this case history provides lessons.