Family first?

I used to watch a fair amount of small-claims court TV shows and I’m always frustrated by the amount of family cases brought to the judge. Be it a tortious act or breach of contract, the majority of times, either litigant, when asked “Why?” will answer “Because we’re family.”

Judge: “If you knew he had been turned down by the bank for a loan because of his bad credit, why did you lend your cousin $5,000?”

Plaintiff: “Because we’re family, your Honor. I thought he’d pay me back.”

OR —

Judge: “Why did you borrow your sister’s car, crash it, and not bother to pay for it?”

Defendant: “Because we’re family, Judge. Why is she asking me to repay her? She should claim on her insurance.”

OR —

Judge: “If your sister isn’t working, why did you co-sign a loan for a car for her?”

Defendant: “Because she’s my sister, Judge.”


It always seems like the closer the blood ties, the more the defendant is going to have you end up in court. The plaintiffs are more likely to lend money to someone who is family, and the same defendants are more reluctant to repay you due to the fact that you’re family.

Court - gavel

My husband is usually horrified when I chastise him for his unconditional acceptance of family and relatives, solely on that basis: that they are family.  I usually have to remind him that they are people too. Being family doesn’t mean that the thief will not steal from you, or the ne’er-do-well will excuse you from his schemes. He, himself, has been burned by family at least twice. One uncle (mom’s eldest brother) had to be taken to court for non-payment of rent, after he lived on their property rent-free for well over a year. His defense to the judge? “We’re family!”

Judge: “Judgement for the plaintiff!”

My co-worker, Olivia, just recently had to relocate to a different state. She was wondering what to do with her home. Her sister, who believes in taking and never, ever giving, wanted to rent my co-worker’s house for the time that she is going to be out of state. She decided to rent her home to her sister. Why? Well, you know the answer. Her sister paid the first month’s rent.

That’s it. No more. She says she has her own stuff to buy for herself. Besides, we’re….

Would Olivia have rented to her if she were not a blood relative? Of course not. She would have gone through the proper channels, gotten a credit report, determined her ability to pay, received references for former landlords, and then made an informed decision.

Would her sister have decided not to pay, were they not related? Hard to say, but I’m sure she would have thought twice about it. She would have added the rent bill to her budget for the month and made room for it. She assumes that her sister won’t throw her out, but this is not a risk she might have taken with a complete stranger.

They’re still sisters and still speak to each other. Meanwhile, four months later, the rent remains unpaid.

The court cases that annoy me the most are ones where adult children willingly lend money to or co-sign loans for the deadbeat parent who never financially supported them while they were children. Parents who, having not seen their child since the stork made its delivery, suddenly emerge from the murky depths and now see a ready source of funds waiting to be tapped. What kind of cojones must that parent have to think they can do this? And what psychological power must that parent have on that child to make him or her want to entertain a conversation at all? There are ex-boyfriends who have hurt me less who I wouldn’t even say hello to at this point in my life, much less lend them money.

So, I’m addressing you, future plaintiffs! Please, unless you are willing to take the loss and accept that there may be losses, don’t make financial decisions just on the basis of blood. DON’T, in the face of logic and evidence screaming at you that this person is a bad risk or that this venture is just too good to be true, co-sign for that car loan or invest in their hair-brained schemes.

DON’T do it just because “we’re family.”

Trust me, that will be their defense in court, too.

Categories: family, Friends

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