When Does Your Job as Parent End? New Jersey Teen Suing for Parents to Pay College Tuition

Rachel Canning, an 18-year-old senior in a private Catholic high school has filed suit in Superior Court in New Jersey to pay back bills on her high school tuition and to give her access to her college fund.  Rachel turned 18 last fall.  After her 18th birthday she moved in with the family of her best friend (whose father happens to be an attorney who is funding this lawsuit).  She has been attending school since that time and is an honor student.

Her parents claim that she wasn’t following the rules of the household.  They say she wasn’t doing her chores, wasn’t coming home by her set curfew, was disrespectful, didn’t treat her sisters very well, and there seems to be an issue with a boyfriend that her parents don’t particularly care for.  They believe he is a “bad influence”.

Sean Canning said that a DCP&P representative visited his home for about three hours last fall, found nothing amiss, determined that Rachel was “spoiled” and discontinued the investigation. He said that he and his wife are beside themselves that discord with their daughter has reached this level.

Attorney Laurie Rush-Masuret, who represents the parents, said in court papers that Rachel emancipated herself and removed herself from her parent’s “sphere of influence” by voluntarily moving out of their house “as she did not want to abide by her parents’ rules….”

Rush-Masuret and Sean Canning said that Rachel was seeing a therapist long before moving out and is supposed to take medication. The parents contend she had disciplinary problems at school last term, was suspended twice, ignored her curfew at home and bullied her younger sister.

This in many ways boils down to our house, our rules.  Virtually every young adult has heard that coming from at least one of their parents.  But how far does the responsibility of parenting go once the child has turned of legal age?  She is still in high school so it does seem fair to me that her parents pay the back tuition of the school they had her enrolled in before this incident took place.  That seem very reasonable to me.  But she kind of loses me when it comes to the college education.

No parent should be forced to pay for a college education.  Has that become a “right” now as well?  My parents didn’t pay for mine.  My mother was from a generation that believed that girls didn’t need to go to college.  She has since realized that is not true in the world we live in today, but when I was in high school and college, she firmly believed that.  Should I have taken her to court to try to get money?  That seems more than just a little absurd to me.

We don’t know the details of what happened.  This is going to come down to the parents word against hers.  I am sure they will both be able to find witnesses that can testify to their version of the story.  It then leaves a judge to decide is it really the parents responsibility to support an adult while they are in college if they don’t want to?

It seems that New Jersey law may be on her side:

The mere fact that a child has turned 18 is not an automatic reason to stop financial support, according to Helfand and several longtime family attorneys in Morris County. A key court decision in the state specifies that, “A child’s admittance and attendance at college will overcome the rebuttable presumption that a child may be emancipated at age 18.”

Prominent family-law attorneys Sheldon Simon and William Laufer both called the lawsuit highly unusual and Laufer said he has seen nothing like it in 40 years of practice.

“A child is not emancipated until they’re on their own,” Simon said. “Even if a child and the parents don’t get along, that doesn’t relieve the parents of their responsibility.” Laufer noted that under New Jersey law, a child can still be declared nonemancipated even if there is a hiatus between high school graduation and college.

So let me get this straight, a child turns 18, the legal age of adulthood in this country, finishes high school, hangs out for a year or two doing heavens knows what, decides to go back to college and then should be expected to remain a child and stay the financial responsibility of the parent?  Got it.

Is it any wonder that people today are leaning more and more to nanny state government?  Now it could be that this law was designed for purposes of getting student loans.  If the child is still dependent on the parent for financial support, then the parents income is what grants and loans for college is based upon.  Most will likely receive more aid if they are nonemanicpated.  But in any case, it is still telling an adult that someone else is responsible for your life, your finances, and your choices.  I have no problem saying that to a parent who is under the age of 18 or still in high school.  But when do we draw the line, legally speaking?

A parent that has a child that they feel is disrespectful and acting like a spoiled brat may have very good reason for saying hey honey, you are on your own.  You made these decisions now you live with the consequences of them.  The parents in this case have kept the car that they bought for their daughter.  They also say that they have done nothing with the college fund that they had set up for her and that she will have access to it.

It will be very interesting to see how this case plays out.  Ms. Rachel should consider herself very lucky that I won’t be making this decision for her.  Her parents don’t owe her that college fund.  They did that because they wanted to, not because they “had” to.  It isn’t the responsibility of the parent to pay for a college education.  If they want to and can help that is wonderful, but it certainly isn’t something that is a “right” or should be forced by the rule of law.  The parents should pay the remaining tuition of her high school education.  After that, their job is done.  A college education can be had when the parents don’t pay for it, I am living proof of that.