Your office has requested our opinion with respect to the obligation of children to
support a parent under Tennessee law. The factual situation from which this request
arose is as follows.
Diane J~ was the representative payee for child's benefits on behalf of Kim K ~, born
December 31, 1961, from January 1980 through November 1980 and Robert S. K~, born
April 8, 1965, from January 1980 through February 1981. Kim and Robert are Diane's
natural children. The children were in the custody of Larry J~, who was the children's
stepfather until he and Diane were divorced on November 15, 1979. Custody was granted
by a Circuit Court order dated January 10, 1980 as an amendment to the order for divorce.
The parties all lived in Tennessee during the months of January 1980 through February
Diane gave Larry none of the money she received for the children but the children's
needs were met during the period of separation. You note that GN00602.090B.1. states
that when a beneficiary's needs are met, Social Security benefits may be used to support
a parent if the beneficiary is obligated to support his parent under a State statute
and the parent is in need of the benefits to meet ordinary and necessary living expenses.
At this point you do not have a clear picture of Diane's needs during the months in
question and you do not know her age. However, there are indications that Diane used
the benefit payments for her own living expenses and the expenses of two of Larry's
children who lived with her, that she has worked as a maid for about $175.00 every
two weeks, and that she has been in and out of mental institutions over the years.
We have reviewed pertinent chapters and sections of the Tennessee Code and could find
no provisions which would require a child to support a parent. Any legal duty of a
child to support a parent must be based upon either contract or statute. 59 Am. Jur.
2d. Parent and Child, §104. Further, the statutory or contractual obligation of a
child to support a parent normally applies to an adult child rather than a minor child.
Notable also is the fact that common law did not recognize any duty on the part of
an adult child to contribute to the support of parents. See eg., Woods v. Ashland Hospital Corp., 340 S.W. 2d 594, at page 596 (Ky. - 1960). Therefore, Kim and Robert had no legal
obligation to support Diane J~.