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This trope is about how some parents consider their dependents nothing more than a cash cow they can exploit for personal gain. Either the parents take the money a child earns and keep it for themselves, or they actively deny the dependent personal gain.
This can also exist in a separate form, by withholding support unless they obey all of the parent's wishes, no matter how cruel or unreasonable, without complaint. Abuse is about control, and this is controlling them through money. Bonus points if the parents are foster parents, and keep the kids around for the welfare check.
Very much Truth in Television, and enters the media spotlight regularly when one or both parents of a rising young music or acting star exploit their child's achievements. This is the reason for the Jackie Coogan Act, named after the Child Actor whose parents blew through most of his money--around three-four million, back in the 1920s and '30s.
Another form can exist, which is a subtrope of Domestic Abuse and emotional abuse. In it, a spouse or significant other uses finances to control and abuse their partner, to keep them dependent on themselves or to make them unable to leave, or simply to profit off of them. In this form, outright identity theft and fraud are sadly true — the abuser helps himself or herself to the victim's purse, wallet, bank account, name, credit line, or more. In this form, both victim and abuser are a romantic couple rather than parent/child, but the dynamic is similar.
- A Skittles commercial features a young man with a Skittles tree growing out of his chest. He wants to see "the specialist", presumably to get it removed, and go to college, but his mother won't let him.
Anime and Manga
- Hayate from Hayate the Combat Butler suffered extensive financial abuse from his parents. They even tried to sell him to the Yakuza... erm, that is, "The Very Nice Men".
- Common plot element in Gunslinger Girl, Angelica in particular. She had her parents collude to make it look like she was in a hit-and-run "accident" so they could cash in on the insurance money to pay off some debts, and it was her father who ran her over with his own car. The badly-injured Angelica ended up taken in by the Agency, which made her into a Cyborg.
- There was a one-shot manga by Rumiko Takahashi that opens with a son trying to escape from his parents, since they keep trying to use his bone marrow to create gold and thus solve their financial woes.
- And there's also Rumiko Takahashi's series Kyoukai no Rinne, in which the main character Rinne gets this so bad from his Jerkass Hot Shoujo Dad that it's hard not to be horrified despite it being Played for Laughs.
- Also, Genma Saotome from Ranma ½ has pawned his son Ranma off more than once to get material benefits.
- Yuki Sohma from Fruits Basket suffered such a fate from his Control Freak mother, who even sold him out to Akito to make herself look better in the Sohma clan. His brother Ayame apparently used to get it too, pretty much running away from the household as soon as he could (which Yuki couldn't forgive him for, since it left him alone with their mom). Later, however, Ayame gets a Crowning Moment of Awesome by calling out their mom in public during a school meeting, and it's implied that things may have started to slowly get better.
- Maria Wong from Yami no Matsuei, being an Idol Singer, was nothing more than a cash cow to her mother. To the point that when Maria got fed up and commited suicide, Mrs. Wong hired Dr. Muraki to revive her. Which he did... but poor Maria ended up as a Tragic Monster instead. At the end of the case, when everything's resolved, Maria asks Tsuzuki and Hisoka to wait for her for a single night so she can give her last concert, and before that she takes the chance to call out her mom.
- Implied in the Lucky Star anime. Akira, former child star and still sort-of popular, mentioned that her mother did have some very nice purses and such that certainly weren't there yesterday...
- Many, MANY cases in Detective Conan have elements of this. There are two forms: someone kills or attempts to kill another person to collect their insurances/inheritances and ends up thwarted by Conan; or somebody else kills an Asshole Victim to punish them for driving a friend/relative to suicide or murder via financially abusing them.
- Mwu La Flaga from Gundam Seed was a victim of this, after his father Al Di Flaga cut him off his inheritance and locked him away merely for being too much like his mother. Al then went and cloned himself, with said clone growing up into Rau Le Creuset.
- Sakuya Ookochi from Sensual Phrase gets this from his Parental Substitute. He originally was his Missing Mom Reiko's sponsor and when she died, she left a huge debt behind; noticing that young Sakuya had inherited his mom's physical beauty and musical talents, he raised Sakuya to be a good musician so he could Work Off the Debt, but gave him no moral or emotional guidance.
- One Sandman story has this, the abusive (foster) parents keep the kid locked in the basement so they can receive child support, taking him out only when the health inspection comes around. Though it is implied that they were driven insane by a pair of nightmares living in the boy's mind, who needed an abuse victim who has completely shut his mind from his environment to provide them a hiding place.
- Lady Cecilia from Yoko Tsuno's short story The prey and the shadow is apparently The Ophelia, locked away from the world in a Scottish castle while her uncle and stepfather William handles the family business. However, the truth is very much this: Cecilia is sane but very naive due to years of isolation, William is planning to kill her for her deceased mother Mary's inheritance and make it look like she fell into despair and was Driven to Suicide to be Together in Death with her Missing Mom. (Not to mention, he staged poor Mary's death). The Cecilia we saw at the beginning was a Body Double named Margaret, whom William also financially abused via forcing her into collaborating via Blackmail... and she ends up derailing his cruel gambit by confirming Yoko's bad feeling about the whole deal and asking her for help to save both of them.
- The teenaged girl Babydoll was put in a mental institution at the start of Sucker Punch by her stepfather, who wanted the girl's large inheritance.
- A scam in The Glass House (2001) also counts. Ruby and Rhett, the two protagonists, were adopted by friends of their dead parents, Erin and Terry... only to be targetted for death so the "new parents" can collect their huge inheritance money. (Not to mention Terry makes passes at Ruby, who's squicked outta her mind... and then she finds out that both he and Erin staged the parents's deaths.) Plucky Girl Ruby has to pretty much kill Terry to save herself and Rhett (Erin was Driven to Suicide out of guilt a while before), and then the kids are taken in by their uncle.
- Jimmy MacElroy's father in Blades of Glory adopts talented orphans. He unadopts him after he's banned from competition.
- A variant occurs in Taking Woodstock. Elliot's mother is constantly nagging him to the point of emotional abuse to put his savings and time into her failing motel. This is despite the fact that she has close to $97,000 hidden in the floorboards which she refuses to share with anyone or invest in her own business
- In In Time, time is literally money, with people acquiring a year on their 25th birthdays, spending and earning it like money. Many parents in this world eagerly wait for their children to turn 25 to use their allotted year to pay off their debts. When a person's countdown hits 0, he or she dies instantly. The protagonist, Will, had this happen to him by his mother and wound up with a little over a week to live; he's spent his days living from paycheck to paycheck to survive.
- In the Body Of Christopher Creed the mother of the title character kept track of every bit of money he earned. His ace in the hole was hiding $100 to use when he finally leaves town as food and fare money.
- The Thenardiers in Les Misérables have this regard for everything in the world, but one of the prime examples is their adopted daughter.
- In Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis, Gregor was the sole financial provider for his parents and family, and whether they were actively abusing this is difficult to tell.
- Harper's mother in the Greywalker series is revealed to be the reason Harper was a professionally trained dancer from a single-digit age, and eventually an "aspiring" actress, and the main reason she became a self-employed per-case contract detective (having vowed never to let someone else be her boss).
- An inversion in The Bible when Jesus criticized the practice of dedicating property to the temple to avoid taking care of one's parents. Presumably this was either because of spite or because of a loophole that allowed the owner to use the property while not owning it, thus having his cake and eating it too.
- In Maximum Ride, Gazzy was sold to the School for 10,000 dollars.
- Rodney Wells in Catherine Anderson's Sweet Nothings. He married heroine Molly Sterling for her money, killed her father, gaslit her, and had her declared mentally unstable so he could control her assets. Molly eventually escapes him and regains what's rightfully hers.
- Happens in more than one Sherlock Holmes case. ie., it's the murderer's motivation in The Speckled Band - he'd have to give up large parts of his inheritance from his late wife to each of his stepdaughters if they married, so he killed one of them right before her wedding and intended to do the same to her Angsty Surviving Twin, but Holmes saved her.
Live Action Television
- In the series finale of Malcolm in the Middle, Lois ensures Malcolm won't get a very high-paying job without having to go to college. It is only when Malcolm is alone with his parents and he demands an explanation that we discover throughout his life Malcolm's parents have sought his limit and had never found one. They feel he will one day become President of the United States. Knowing this, they are forcing him to struggle and work his way through college so that he has an understanding of the financial struggles that most people face. Selfish? Yes, but for a greater cause than themselves... unless you realize that his family's financial problems are largely self-inflicted.
- Hal kept a $10,000 grant Malcolm earned a secret from him.
- Lois takes most of Malcolm's paychecks.
- At one point, Lois and Hal find out that since Malcolm tests so high on college aptitude tests, some credit card companies offer him free cards and accounts. Malcolm has enough sense to not use them. Hal then steals the cards to pay for a family skiing trip, without Malcolm's knowledge or permission, which he clearly never intends to pay back. And he'll never be able to pay it off.
- An episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit had white parents set their black adopted child up to be killed by white supremacists to collect the insurance money.
- There was also a Criminal Intent episode where the mother from Everybody Loves Raymond was drugged so that her son and daughter-in-law could sell off her possessions and house.
- Another SVU episode had the guardians of a little girl poisoning her in a way that resembled cancer so they could collect and pocket money from various charities, and gain sympathy from people. They also told the little girl to lie and say a famous celebrity (Not Michael Jackson) molested her so they could get a settlement. The same episode had the family of an actual victim of the celebrity making him keep quiet about his rape after they signed a contract with the celebrity that granted them a considerable amount of hush money.
- An episode of the original series had parents that took their son to a celebrity's (a different not-Michael Jackson) party so he could molest him in return for a large amount of money. They did it for the sake of their youngest son who was ill, but when the oldest son learned that the money wasn't hush money given after the molestation but before, he testified against them.
- In one episode of Married... with Children, Al and Peggy did this to Bud by accident, thinking the money in the bank account was a banking error in their favor.
- The second version happens to Eliot in Scrubs — when she refuses to take the specific medical career path her father has mapped out for her, he instantly cuts off all financial support, leading to her living in a removal van.
- A scheme to embezzle money from Child Services using this trope was center to the plot of an episode of Person of Interest.
- You are put into this role in the Princess Maker games: you are given the task of caring for a 10-year-old girl until she reaches adulthood. The creators have forgotten to give you any effective means of income. The salary she gets from various odd jobs is your only way of making money, apart from necessities (clothes, tuition etc.) you will also use to give her pocket money and birthday presents. Sure, you'll be spending it all on her, but still, what the hell?
- Actually, they didn't "forget" to give the player income. He gets a yearly salary from the King and sets aside a part for the girl's most basic needs (diet, dresses, etc.)... but you still have to send the girl off to part-time works to cover for other expenses.
- Mikwa of Dragon Quest VII stands on the verge of this. A Child Mage-in training, she spends all her time practicing magic because their ruler highly values his magicians, and one of her parents wants to take advantage of this as soon as possible. Her other parent isn't so sure, but isn't able to convince their partner that they should ease up and let Mikwa be a child... until she's nearly incinerated alive by a passing wizard For the Evulz.
- Sonic Battle: Rouge planned to use Emerl to help her steal jewels.
- Parodied in The Simpsons in which an orphan is glad he doesn't have parents because of this trope.
- Homer took all the money Bart earned as a baby in another episode. Bart then managed to successfully sue for emancipation and won because of it.
- In Futurama, Bender adopted kids for child support, then neglected them. When he realizes he's actually losing money on the deal, he tries to sell the kids off for their meat to turn a profit. He is arrested for "misrepresenting the weight of live stock".
- In another episode a TV executive adopts a bunch of orphans so he can use them as cheap labour for his children's TV show. It's a subversion since even with the child labour, the orphans are much better off than they were in the orphanage where they were forced to eat books as food. It's a Crapsack World.
- Gorillaz bassist Murdoc vowed "never to take to the stage under someone else's direction again" after his father forced him to dress as Pinocchio and sing "I've Got No Strings" in a talent contest. "The prize? £2.50." (Even in the early '70s, that was not a lot.)
- When Luna Travoria of Dominic Deegan first appeared, she had undergone years of parental abuse, culminating in a plot to make her commit suicide at a certain time and place — because Luna's mother could expect to receive a financial settlement from the government if Luna died while a royal knight was staying in their home.