Can I actually *legally* move out??
May 17, 2017 5:18 AM   Subscribe

My family life is a mess. My dad died two months ago and now I'm living at home with my mother. It was different living here when my dad was ill... it was different living here with my dad, period. I'm in my late 20s and for various reasons I ended up moving back home a few years ago. My mother is just... completely mentally ill. I cannot live with her anymore. This environment is driving me crazy. Am I even legally allowed to move out if she's so ill?

Previously I wrote this question about my situation.

So, yeah, to describe my mother: she's a 71-year-old mentally ill alcoholic! About 15 years or so ago she sort-of got "treatment" for her schizophrenia... she spent about a month in the hospital. But once she got out she never took any of her medication and has neglected almost everything about her health since. She doesn't brush her teeth, she's lost teeth and her current teeth are all rotten. She doesn't wash herself or her hair, in general.

She won't leave the house to do anything, except to walk (she doesn't drive, thank god) to the local bar (which is 2-3 minutes away from the house). Since that time, all of her bills have been automated and are taken out of her checking account. My dad left her enough money to live on for the rest of her life, if she's smart, and she has her pension. She still won't entertain the thought of living in any sort of seniors complex. I've even suggested helping her get to and from a senior's centre so she can meet other people and not feel so lonely. But that's out of the question. According to her she is perfectly fine. She won't admit that she has any sort of a problem.

This situation is completely miserable and I cannot tolerate it anymore. My therapist has recommended trying to get her assessed, but if she doesn't want to be mentally assessed... I'm shit out of luck, because she thinks she's perfect! A social worker visited my dad and me in the hospital and was completely useless. All she suggested was getting Meals on Wheels delivered for her to eat. She said we couldn't have her assessed, because my mother wouldn't agree to it. That was it. I'm not even interested in getting power of attorney or guardianship over her. If she wants to spend all her money at the bar, fine.

I feel completely spent and burnt out. In the fall I'm going to be attending a grad program, and I'd actually like to apply for jobs in a few years... but who knows if I can even move out of the city at this rate. She was never a good mother to me. I haven't loved or liked her since I was a child, nor do I feel any warm feelings towards her. I'm at the point where... well, if she says she's "fine," fuck it. I'm gone. I don't want to have anything to do with her ever again. But legally, do I have to live with her and help her if she's so OBVIOUSLY ill? I feel trapped and I just need to leave for my own mental health.

(I'm in Alberta, Canada)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (21 answers total)
If your mother's bills are paid, if she is able to leave the home, if she has resources and she knows how to use them, then I think not only is it legal for you to move out, it's ethical as well.

I dealt with these issues with my father for many years. He wasn't an alcoholic, but he liked to collect losers who would come into his home and take advantage of him. Because he is an adult, and because his doctors don't consider him to be a threat to himself or others, I can do nothing about this without his consent.

So I quit contacting him and haven't heard from him in several years. I know he's alive and still functioning independently, and my absence has made no difference. I don't think your absence would make a difference to your mother, either. If she doesn't want you to take care of her, she is legally an adult and you've been told she has the right to refuse assessment.

As she's not your child, nor your ward, and you have no legal standing to challenge her independence, you're free to leave and save yourself. Please, please save yourself.
posted by headspace at 5:29 AM on May 17, 2017 [24 favorites]


Even if the government had the power to force adults to physically care for their parents, if every assessment she's had says that there's no reason for her not to be independent then it seems like any legal entity would see her as just a regular adult woman.

On my brief research, Alberta also eliminated any potential for financial obligation in 2003.

Unfortunately, I don't have much in the way of further advice. But I think you are legally (and ethically) OK to move out. Put on your own oxygen mask first.

You could always call for police wellness checks from afar if things get worse or too quiet.
posted by one of these days at 5:34 AM on May 17, 2017 [6 favorites]

Can you set up her bills so that you can pay them remotely online? Can you get Meals on Wheels delivered? Can you visit - let's say, quarterly - so that you can make sure that the house hasn't sunk into the earth?

If she has money and she's able to get out of bed, eat, etc, I think you should focus on what you can do for her remotely.

Also, could you, using her money, pay someone to do administrative stuff a few hours a week? Deposit her checks, sort her mail...or maybe run a couple of errands and do laundry?

I don't think you should give up your education and employment to care for her long term, no matter what happens. Leaving all else aside, we live in a hard world that is going to get harder, and you can't just say "well, I will probably marry/get a good job when I need one/etc and therefore five to ten years out of the workforce will be totally fine".

I think that given her current situation, it should be possible for you to set up a few systems to keep her as well as possible on her chosen path without actually living with her.
posted by Frowner at 6:12 AM on May 17, 2017 [6 favorites]

You are absolutely legally allowed to move out. And ethically as well. If things do get worse for her, she will most likely reach out to government resources to get the help she needs. You are not legally required to live there and give up your life and go insane yourself. Maybe check out a couple of Al-Anon meetings, it could be very, very helpful. Wishing you lots of luck navigating a painful situation.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 7:02 AM on May 17, 2017 [13 favorites]

This is a really good time for you to get the hell out of there: if she passes out walking home from the bar she won't freeze to death.

Seriously, I'm also the daughter of a woman who had schizophrenia and was obnoxious and mean. You have gone way over and way beyond what anyone who really understands what it's like would expect of you.

Just get out. I don't know the legal stuff but I cannot imagine they could force you to take care of her. If you're in Calgary maybe you could call one of the links on here and ask them.

If you need a friend who gets it feel free to mefi mail me.
posted by mareli at 7:27 AM on May 17, 2017 [4 favorites]

Get out before she gets worse. At some point someone will get concerned and call the authorities and it will be out of your (and her) hands. Until then, try to live your life far away.
posted by clone boulevard at 7:50 AM on May 17, 2017 [7 favorites]

You're not her legal guardian, so yes, you are fine to move out. Even if you were her legal guardian, you would still be able to live separately and just take care of her legal affairs.
posted by bile and syntax at 7:54 AM on May 17, 2017 [7 favorites]

Of course you can get out and you absolutely should. I do think you are feeling the burden of responsibility here and that's fine and normal. Maybe try Al-Anon to help you work through some of those feelings. I would also suggest setting up a monthly dinner (since you seem like someone who still wants to make sure nothing bad happens to your mom); you can bring your mom food with some leftovers and check in on her but beyond that she's an adult who thinks she's perfect to let her live her life and go be free to live yours.
posted by GilvearSt at 8:40 AM on May 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

I know you're burned out and need to go. I think you absolutely should! But, as usual, I want to say that it doesn't have to be all or nothing. You could move out and have your own space and life, and still spend a day every two weeks at your mom's house with a cleaning service to help you. My mom is not ill, just elderly, and that's what we do. Since I'm paranoid about letting strangers into her life and home, I meet the cleaning service at her home every other Friday and together we do what needs to be done. They do the heavy lifting as far as cleaning, I take care of the mail, bills, paperwork, etc. (I do see my mom almost every day, but this bi-weekly work day keeps her life running smoothly and I don't feel bombarded every single day any more. And it saves me from feeling any guilt about what I do and don't do.)
posted by raisingsand at 8:52 AM on May 17, 2017

I want to suggest you do some self-care here. Legally, other people have addressed. Emotionally, I just want to make sure you're caring for yourself. You're in therapy, which is great, and al-anon for a group support system is also a good idea. Because the truth is - whether you move out or not - something bad may happen to your mom. And if it does, even after you leave, that won't be your fault. Your mother is an adult who know her options and who has the resources and likely the ability to take care of herself if she chooses to. She's chosen something else. It's not your responsibility - or even within your abilities - to fix her. You can choose how much effort you're willing to put into her (which can range from none to some of the a few-days-a-week options above, to moving away and calling weekly, to anything else you're comfortable with), and the level of effort you choose will not be the thing that "saves" her or not. Do what is best for you.
posted by brainmouse at 9:26 AM on May 17, 2017 [11 favorites]

It's painful and may feel wrong to leave, but a having sense of duty compelling you to stay on a sinking ship is not likely to end well.

I found some things here that were helpful. You are so not alone.
posted by quarterframer at 9:33 AM on May 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

"Because the truth is - whether you move out or not - something bad may happen to your mom. And if it does, even after you leave, that won't be your fault. "

I wanted to post what brainmouse said, again, for emphasis.

My parents have mental health issues, not as acute as your Mother's, but golly gee they still have issues. I stayed with them for far longer than I should have because I was afraid that they wouldn't be able to handle certain things when I left and what the consequences of that might be, and I was afraid of the emotional backlash I might get for "abandoning" them. Turns out I was absolutely 100% right in my predictions. But it was still the right decision for me to go, and I should have left sooner than I did.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 9:49 AM on May 17, 2017 [4 favorites]

Avail yourself to public social services regarding seniors. A quick Google search uncovered this agency, and you may find others. Look for a counselor who can help you get out of this situation.
posted by Leontine at 11:08 AM on May 17, 2017

It has already happened to your mom. You get to have your life. You will need ACOA help. Get help.
posted by Oyéah at 11:38 AM on May 17, 2017

I'm going to recommend you read "I Am Not Sick; I Don't Need Help", not because I think you're obligated to continue living there, but because it will help you understand what's going on in your mother's head, and how to talk to her to maybe get her to be more cooperative. Read it for your own sanity, in other words.

Also, you might want to check out, to talk to other people dealing with similar situations.
posted by MexicanYenta at 12:00 PM on May 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

I once asked here anonymously about my feelings of guilt and obligation in a similar sort of dynamic and the overwhelming response was to extricate myself immediately. It felt sooo good to hear a chorus of voices giving me that permission. Please put some space between you and the situation so you can start to process the dynamic.
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:36 PM on May 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

The social worker is right. The only way to get people assessed involuntarily is if you believe they are an imminent danger to themself or to others. Someday, she actually will be a danger to herself, if she lives that long, and at that time if you become aware of it, you can call the police to escort her to the emergency department and she will end up in a geriatrics psych unit or nursing home.

I do urge you after you get a little time to breathe outside of this situation to reconsider trying to get power of attorney - not to help her, to help you. From what I understand, dealing with people's estates can be kind of a nightmare, probably more so if they've been a schizophrenic alcoholic. Getting power of attorney could make your future life easier? I think the suggestion in the other thread to consult an elder care attorney is a really good one.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 10:11 PM on May 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

Speak to a solicitor with the needed qualifications regarding the prospects of having a guardian named for her. It does not have to be you. There are various kinds of living arrangements that provide levels of support for those who need it. At least here in the U.S., if there is a guardian named, that person and not your mother gets to make those decisions. There would have to be a hearing where she is given the opportunity to show that she can fend for herself.
posted by yclipse at 5:17 AM on May 18, 2017

yclipse makes another good point - if she were evaluated for capacity to make her own decisions and was found not to have capacity, it's important to be aware that you do not have to become the decision maker. Most people I see in her situation who are alcoholics, severely mentally ill or on drugs have an attorney appointed as their guardian.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 6:10 PM on May 18, 2017

In case you still have legal questions, you can contact Legal Aid, and if you are in Edmonton, Student Legal Services of Edmonton. Dialling 211 will connect you to provincial resources - you just explain what you need and they will direct you to the appropriate department.

Good luck, and I definitely agree that you don't have a moral obligation to stay.
posted by kitcat at 3:23 PM on May 19, 2017

Leave and don't look back. It doesn't sound like she took any responsibility for you; don't feel any for her. She's just a messed up person who happens to be related to you.
posted by aspersioncast at 9:57 AM on May 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

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