World News

Taiwan Dentist Is Ordered to Pay Mother, Who Financed His Education, Nearly $1 Million

Posted January 2, 2018 7:14 p.m. EST
Updated January 2, 2018 7:18 p.m. EST

TAIPEI, Taiwan — It is an age-old arrangement, and one that is usually implicit: Parents pay for their children’s educations, and hope that in their old age the children will support them.

But in a case that made its way to Taiwan’s highest court, a mother who had financed her son’s dental training sued him, asserting that he had broken a written agreement to support her from the proceeds of his dental practice.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court sided with his mother.

The case attracted considerable attention because the mother and son had put down in a written contract — signed when he was 20 — what is often left unsaid, particularly in a heavily Confucian-influenced society that emphasizes filial piety. The principle is backed up by law in Taiwan, where adults are legally prohibited from abandoning their parents.

Each side advanced arguments: The mother urged the court to enforce the contract. The son maintained he had already paid his mother $1 million and should not have to pay her more.

According to Taiwanese media covering the case, the woman, identified only by her surname, Luo, raised her two sons after she and their father divorced, putting both through dental school. (Her ex-husband remarried.)

When she filed her lawsuit eight years ago, the woman said she had come from a well-to-do doctor’s family.

“When I was young I came from a naive and wealthy family and married into a military family that didn’t even have a license” to practice medicine, Luo said, according to The Apple Daily in Taiwan. “I sacrificed all of my leisure time.”

Luo’s family provided funds that enabled her to run a dental clinic where her husband, surnamed Chu, practiced until their divorce.

Luo told the Supreme Court that when she worked as a single mother to put her sons through dental school, she was concerned that they might not help support her in old age, so she had each sign an agreement when they turned 20. Her sons both became practicing dentists in 2003, The Apple Daily reported.

The agreement stipulated that after becoming dentists, her sons would pay her 60 percent of their net profits until the total amount paid reached 50 million new Taiwan dollars, or just under $1.7 million.

According to a report in The Liberty Times, the younger son told the court that he worked in his mother’s dental clinic and repaid her more than $1 million. Given that he signed the contract when he was only 20 — and that he had already paid back so much of his contractual debt to his mother — he argued that his debt should be cleared.

The court disagreed, however, ruling Tuesday that because he signed the agreement as a legal adult, he was responsible for satisfying its terms.

The court ordered Chu to pay an “upbringing fee” of more than $754,000, with additional interest bringing the total award for his mother to more than $967,000.

In Taiwan, filial piety and education are widely recognized as important virtues, but young people face a tougher economic environment than their parents. The verdict drew mixed reactions.

“I believe everyone should want to repay their parents for raising them once they’ve grown old,” one Taipei-based dentist, Wu Chih-hang, 30, said in a phone interview, “so I support the judges’ decision.”

“I also sympathize with the dentist’s rough lot,” he said. “His mother went as far as to put a value on raising her son, which is probably a difficult environment for the average person to imagine growing up in.”

On the website of EBC, a cable broadcaster, one commenter, Jason Chen, was less sympathetic to the mother. “The old woman got some serious cash — she got $1.7 million to raise a kid,” he wrote. I’m not even sure if I cost $170,000 to raise.”

But a Facebook user, Huang Ya-ling, was critical of Chu. “Unfilial people are beneath pigs and dogs,” she wrote.