"When I talk to parents they almost always say the same thing -- my son or daughter would never treat me that way -- and most of the time they're right, but it does happen," said Blanks.
Family members suing one another is always traumatic, but particularly so when it involves a parent and child, according to Jane Honoroff, a licensed social worker and a principal with The Mediation Group in Brookline, Mass.
Honoroff said that even when they end, lawsuits rarely "repair anything, they just put it to rest." She said that's because taking legal action is "about trying to resolve otherwise-unresolved conflicts," conflicts a court of law can rarely settle.
Often families resort to court because the family dysfunction is ongoing and complicated by issues of mental illness and substance abuse. There can be huge splits within the family, said Honoroff, with one child pushing a parent to legal action, and others counseling against it.
In one case, Honoroff recalled, a stepmother sued her stepson over a family business. The result was a painful family rift.
"It is a pretty extreme step to file a lawsuit and these things are generally pretty destructive. Lawsuits always imply there is a right and a wrong, and one party ends up losing," said Honoroff.
In the Kerrigans' case, the paperwork suggested the lawsuit was simply about getting repayment for unpaid loans. But the underlying message the elder Kerrigans may have been trying to send their son is that he needed to get help for his various behavioral and substance-abuse issues.
The Kerrigan suit was eventually dismissed. Now, two years later, Mark Kerrigan is again in jail, this time facing much more serious charges.
As for Peg Savo, she expressed bewilderment at the turn her life has taken. She reminisces about making her son lunch every day for nine years as he struggled to start various businesses.
Now it has been two years since she last talked to him. She says she spends most of her days saying to herself, "I wonder where I failed."