New Jersey Judge Peter Bogaard has rejected the initial effort of Rachel Canning, 18, to force her parents to pay for her financial support and college. Retired Lincoln Park police Chief Sean Canning and his wife, Elizabeth, insist that she moved out of their house voluntarily after she refused to live according to the rules of the house, including speaking respectfully to them, taking a curfew, reconsidering a relationship with a boyfriend (viewed as a bad influence) and doing chores. She said that they kicked her out as soon as she turned 18. However, the problem is that she is indeed 18 and the idea of forcing parents to pay for schooling after the age of majority is a problematic one. She has accused her father of being “inappropriately affectionate” but an investigation reportedly cleared Sean Canning (shown here with Rachel).
Rachel wants to be declared non-emancipated. It is a novel twist on the occasional case where a minor seeks emancipation from her parents. Here the child wants to reverse emancipation to force them to pay for her high school education and college. She is currently living with the family of a friend. The first time she saw her parents in five months was in the courtroom.
The involvement of the other family is interesting. Rachel Canning’s lawyer, Tanya N. Helfand, was brought into the case by the father of her best friend and fellow student Jaime Inglesino. John Inglesino is an attorney and hired Helfand. However, the lawsuit is seeking to force the Cannings to pay Helfand’s legal fees, which were previously estimated at $12,597.
While seeking non-emancipation, she remains not too fond of the parents who she accuses of abuse, triggering her eating disorder, and trying to force her into a basketball scholarship. Her lawyer accused the parents of painting the “most disgusting picture of their daughter” to avoid paying her tuition.
The judge however cited the “slippery slope” that would be created by “a precedent where parents live in constant fear of enforcing the basic rules of the house. If they set a rule a child doesn’t like, the child can move out, move in with another family, seek child support, cars, cell phone and a few hundred grand to go to college. . . . Are we going to open the gates for 12-year-olds to sue for an Xbox? For 13-year-olds to sue for an iPhone?”
The last concern is not the most pressing in my view. The problem is that fact that she is 18. The New Jersey code declares that a person who attains the age of eighteen years is an adult. N.J.S.A. 9:17B-3 provides in pertinent part:
Every person eighteen (18) or more years of age shall in all other matters and for all other purposes be deemed to be an adult and, notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, shall have the same legal capacity to act and the same powers and obligations as a person 21 or more years of age.
Likewise, N.J.S.A. 9:17B-1 states:
The Legislature finds and declares and by this Act intends, pending the revision or amendment of the many statutory provisions involved, to:
a. Extend to persons 18 years of age and older the basic civil and contractual rights and obligations heretofore applicable only to persons 21 years of age or older, including the right to contract, sue, be sued and defend civil actions, apply for and be appointed [***8] to public employment, apply for and be granted a license or authority to engage in a business or profession subject to State regulation, serve on juries, marry, adopt children, attend and participate in horserace meetings and pari-mutuel betting and other legalized games and gaming, except as otherwise provided in subsection c. of this section, sell alcoholic beverages, act as an incorporator, registered agent, or director of a corporation, consent to medical and surgical treatment, execute a Will, and to inherit, purchase, mortgage or otherwise encumber and convey real and personal property.
She is now past the age of majority and the support of her parents is now a matter of discretion and consent. However, there are cases where children above the age of 18 have sought to force the payment of tuition and one court noted that: “A child’s admittance and attendance at college will overcome the rebuttable presumption that a child may be emancipated at age 18.”
Some cases have found that a child remains under the “sphere of influence” of their parents may be considered unemancipated for child support and/or college contribution purposes. See Gac v. Gac, 186 N.J. 535, 897 A.2d 1018 (2006). In
Gac, a custodial parent for the non-custodial parent to continue paying child support and college contribution. The court held:
In general, a parent’s responsibility to pay child support terminates when the child is emancipated. We noted in Newburgh that emancipation can occur upon the child’s marriage, on induction into military service by Court Order based on the child’s best interests, or by attainment of appropriate age. The facts of each case will control when a child is emancipated. Although there is no fixed age when emancipation occurs, N.J.S.A. 9:17B-3 provides that when a person reaches eighteen years of age, he or she shall be deemed an adult.
In this case, Rachel allegedly moved out on her own volition and reportedly has a $20,000 and would like to go to the University of Vermont to study towards becoming a biomedical engineer.
While non-emancipation appears a dead letter, the court will allow Rachel to argue that that the Cannings are obligated to financially support their daughter. A hearing is scheduled for April 22nd.
That would include the payment of the remained of her tuition at Morris Catholic High School, where she is a senior. Her parents paid tuition through Dec. 31st.
What do you think? Should the parents be required to pay for the rest of high school and/or college?