Dysfunctional Families: Cultural Differences

Dysfunctional Families: Cultural Differences

I was in mediation last week with a Southeast Asian family where I represented four daughters in an inheritance dispute against their two brothers.

The sole asset in the estate was a proximally 75 acres of farmland, upon which all of the siblings had worked since early childhood doing hard manual labor. In addition to that labour the daughters also did most of the housework and cooking and in later life most of the caregiving further elderly parents.
After both parents died the daughters were left $150,000 each, and the two sons approximately $4.5 million each.

There had always been a great deal of bitterness between the daughters in the sons and the disproportionate inheritance only accelerated and inflamed what had always been a dysfunctional family, largely due to cultural differences in the treatment of the two boys over the four  girls.

It is not uncommon in Southeast Asian cultures for the parents to leave most if not all of their assets to either the oldest son, or alternatively to the sons, and provide very little to the daughters.

Apparently the rationale for this behavior is a “cultural norm” based on the daughters will marry and be taken care of by their husband.

Similarly, in Islamic cultures there is Sharia law, where in inheritance situations women are typically awarded one third in comparison to two thirds awarded to the men.

I have over the years, met with many embittered women who wish to challenge the distribution under their parents will but feel tremendous guilt and social pressure not to do so.

In such  situations the family can only be described as dysfunctional and upon closer examination, the women will invariably tell me many episodes of behavior that by Western standards can only be described as very  dysfunctional and even abusive.

Even when many cultures are functional at home, this can drastically change when a child, typically a daughter, marries someone outside of their culture or religion.

In my previous example involving the South East Asian family, three of the daughters agreed to an arranged marriage, while one of them married a beloved Caucasian.

As a result of she was barred from any family contact for over 20 years.

It is clear that one should never underestimate the depth of the roots of one’s culture and upbringing as a breach of same may very well involve a breakup of the family.

I have even witnessed relatively calm and functional families explode into almost violent litigation over the funeral service of a deceased when there is a division of religious practices within the family.

In British Columbia S.60 of the Wills, Estates and Succession act (WESA) allows a disinherited child, such as a daughter in favour of a son to challenge the distribution of the will, which may very well be varied by the court in favour of the daughter so as to provide a more equal distribution.

The courts in British Columbia have stated that despite cultural norms that may exist in other societies and other countries, the law of British Columbia will be applied rather than the laws or norms of that culture that may exist in their place of origin.