Legal Ease: Civil Code doesn’t protect stepmothers, grandmothers

Every year a day is set aside in May, dedicated to expressions of love for Mother.

On that day we are expected to prove our love for our mothers by taking them to dinner, buying them chocolates and flowers, and sending them special Mother’s Day cards. Wouldn’t it be nice if we showed our love every day? And shouldn’t it also be shown to our grandmothers, stepmothers (the good, not wicked ones) and mothers-in-law — the “mothers group?”

Unfortunately, this is not always the case. The interactions between the members of the “mothers group” and children can be simple or complicated, friendly or acrimonious, close or estranged. Given that interactions are not only emotional but also legal, this might be a good time to look at some of the provisions governing these relationships as found in the Quebec Civil Code.

The law provides that every child has the right to the protection, security and attention his parents, or those acting in their stead, are able to give him. This right benefits the child and imposes an obligation on the parent or someone acting in place of the parent. Stepmothers and Grandmothers often fulfill this role, so perhaps they also deserve to be honoured on Mother’s Day.

Mothers (and Fathers) represent the child in the exercise of that child’s civil rights and in the administration of his property. This relationship is described in the law as “parental authority” and “tutorship”. The child is subject to the authority of his parents and they have the rights and duties that accompany their role. There is no mention here of the Stepmother who seems to have a duty to protect but no legal right of authority. The flowers and chocolates would be a welcome gesture to make up for this.

The law provides that children, regardless of their age, owe respect to their parents. There is no mention of anyone else in the “mothers group.” We can only hope that the emotional relationship between the child and members of this group makes up for the lack of any legal requirement.

The relationship between a child and his grandparents is protected in the Civil Code by the provision that the parents are prohibited from interfering with it. This rule is often breached, sometimes justifiably, sometimes not. Where the family cannot work things out by themselves amicably or through mediation, the court may be called upon to do so.

The judge will always decide in the best interests of the child. It should be noted that whereas the obligation of mutual support between parents and children is provided for in the law, this no longer applies between the Grandchild and Grandparent. We all know, however, that Grandparents often contribute towards the support of their grandchildren. I think Grandma deserves the flowers and chocolate treatment too.

When our mental capacity dwindles, someone may be called upon to act for us. Hopefully we will have provided for this in a mandate in the event of incapacity. If we have not done so, we may be declared in need of protection. A meeting of family and friends will be convened and the person who will represent us in the administration of our property and take charge of our moral and material well-being will be chosen. Often this person will be our child, grandchild, stepchild or another member of the “mothers group.” On occasion it might even be our child-in-law.

That’s another reason for Mothers, Grandmothers, Stepmothers and Mothers-in-law to maintain a friendly relationship between themselves and their children. If no agreement can be reached, the Public Curator will fill the need and no one would ever argue that she warrants a Mother’s Day gift.

Despite all of the above, nothing in the Law defines the relationship between the child and his stepmother or mother-in-law, or between the members of the “mothers group” themselves.

There is also a failure by the law to recognize some of these connections in the event of death. In cases where there is no will, the estate of a deceased will devolve to a married or civil union spouse and relatives. Relatives are defined as relationships based on blood ties or adoption. A person is connected to his ancestors and descendents or related to others descended from a common ancestor. This may include cousins but it leaves out Stepmothers and Mothers-in-law as well as stepchildren. Anyone wanting to benefit such persons must have a will.

Let’s try to love and respect all members of the “mothers group.” 

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