Aristotle once said: “This is why it would not seem open to a man to disown his father (though a father may disown his son); being in debt, he should repay, but there is nothing by doing which a son will have done the equivalent of what he has received, so that he is always in debt.”
Who knew something stated in 350 BC would have such staying power over two thousand years later? It is hard to tell whether there continues to be credence in these “wise” words once uttered by Aristotle. Is an adult child really forever indebted to his father (or mother)? What for exactly? Is it wise to subscribe to a value statement made when family meant something completely different, when lack of transportation kept parents and children side by side for a lifetime, and when most children thought they would fall off the edge of a flat world if they veered too far from home?
The answers to these questions, if asked to some courts, particularly in South Dakota and (especially) Pennsylvania, are as outdated as the maps depicting the once formidable flat earth. This is because the statutes used to enforce this debt, referred to as filial support statutes, are products of a different time themselves . . .
[Today] States are beginning to tighten their public assistance budgets, in turn leading them back to the remnants of this country’s colonial past. Instead of relying on the government for support, the indigent elderly (as well as nursing homes, hospitals, and the like) are looking to adult children to foot the bill. Questions remain, however, about the correct way of going about this—are these statutes suited for the present time? What protection do we want to provide families, and how should legislatures account for changes within the family? How can these statutes be amended to provide a crutch to struggling public benefit systems yet not overburden innocent adult children? This Comment addresses all of these questions.