Fuhgeddaboudit: New Jersey Judge Rules Against Teenager In Effort To Force Parents To Pay For College

article-2572711-1C07EFB400000578-224_634x612New 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.

article-0-1C020A8D00000578-230_634x837The 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?

60 thoughts on “Fuhgeddaboudit: New Jersey Judge Rules Against Teenager In Effort To Force Parents To Pay For College”

  1. Don, My wise mother would often say it’s best to be the judge of ourselves and leave the judging of others alone.

  2. Judge did get it right. 18 is the magic number. But it is a tragedy all around. Tough love, if done correctly, can be very helpful. But done incorrectly it can scar a person for life. I certainly am not in a position to judge either the daughter or the parents without knowing more than we do. As is the situation with most tragedies, there were probably mistakes made by everyone. The money spent on attorneys would have been better spent on family counseling.

    At least the daughter has some resources. Having raised a high functioning autistic child and hung out with other parents of high functioning autistic kids, I’m aware of situations where some parents, totally incapable of dealing with their autistic kid and their behavioral problems, just threw them out of the house when they turned 18.

  3. Seems Rachel Canning would like the freedom of emancipation without the responsibilities freedom entails. Who wouldn’t like that? The judge decided correctly.

  4. Sheeee-it, man – my dad bought me a used VW and paid for my first semester in college then said all the rest is up to me. I worked all summer and part time during the school year to pay for tuition, books and gas – and really appreciated my education! I never cut class (hey I was payin’ for it) and took the courses I wanted.

    Dad should at least let the brat finish out high school, but that’s just me. Another avenue is for her to convince her no-good boy friend to cough up some cheese for the privilege of, you know, “relations.” Wait’ll she figures out that none of it is going to help in the “long run.”

    What I want to know is the all-important question – who’s paying the lawyer now?

  5. A child is under the influence and upbringing of the parents until s/he is 18 years of age. Parents have the right to set rules, curfews, structure, and standards in their home–these parents evidently were lax in these areas, until they could no longer get this child to cooperate. Like Nick S. I am all for tough love–shape up or ship out. I don’t care how smart you are, you owe it to your family and society to be a responsible and respectable individual. There’s a lot of highly intelligent prisoners, but they’re still a menace to society. I can see this future “biomedical engineer” creating a dirty bomb in years to come. For lack of a better word, she’s a first class BEOTCH and her lawyers should be tar and feathered for even considering taking this case.

  6. Bron, Our kids would whine about the lax rules in other houses. I bought a “No Whining” t-shirt that I would don when appropriate. They washed their own clothes starting @ age 12. They cleaned up after dinner. They were expected to dinner unless they had a legit excuse. Do you know how many families NEVER eat dinner together. They had a curfew that was always reasonable. They had a standing rule that they should never drive or ride w/ someone who was drinking. They could call us for a ride W/ NO QUESTIONS ASKED. They had pet, yard, house chores.

  7. nick:

    you and Kraaken are so heartless. Show some compassion, oh the humanity.

  8. firefly, Simply taking the facts not in dispute, shows the girl didn’t want to abide the rules of the household. A household is not a democracy. Parents aren’t the child’s friend.

  9. Kraaken understand tough love! So many parents are clueless in that regard. You always show a lot of common sense.

  10. Both the daughter and the parents can sincerely believe they are the good ones here; it’s all in the perception.

    No one posting here has lived in that house or can KNOW what the family dynamics were and are.

    It seems to me some here are being a bit judgmental; maybe their opinions are based more on their own lives than on the Canning family members.

    I don’t know what the scene in that house was for the past 18 years, but neither does anyone else except the family members.

  11. We don’t know exactly what occured in that household and who is telling the complete truth.

  12. MS: “The system is cruel to young adults that are estranged from their parents.”

    Yeah. Especially when the estrangement is the child’s fault. She left of her own free will, she’s 18, too bad, so sad. She didn’t like the rules? Fine. She was obviously her own worst enemy. Good on the Judge!

  13. She may be a legal adult after age 18, but as far as her getting financial aid goes, she still needs to get her parent’s cooperation and financial info until age 25, or other criteria (one being emancipation) are met. See my link above @ 12:26.

  14. On a broader scale…a very large minority, if not now a majority, of high school seniors today turn 18 just before or just after starting their senior year. This results from age cut-offs where children have to be five at or soon after the start of kindergarten and from parents “red shirting” children (usually boys) by holding them back a year so that they have the advantage of being among the oldest in their class.

    Allowing these students who are legal adults, but socially and culturally children, to demand support from their parents while being under no obligation to abide by household rules would create chaos in many households. What other leverage other than the withdrawal of support would these parents have with legal adults? Fortunately, most families are not so dysfunctional that it would come to threatening to withdraw support, but the judge made a good call in not creating an entitlement for legal adults.

  15. Having had a manipulative daughter who began telling me at 17 that she was not to be ordered around or expected to do chores, follow rules, etc…who moved out at 18 AFTER physically attacking me when I refused to acquiesce to her demands? No, she believes herself above the rules and she does not deserve to hand her parents the bill for her activities.

    Our daughter moved back home every time she was evicted and we took on debt to straighten her life….but at last, after another physical attack on one of us, we told her to not bother coming home. These parents should get out early instead of late.

  16. What she needs is better advice to try to get emancipated OR maybe this is part of her end game. Perhaps her lawyers thought if she was refused support from her parents, through the court, her case for emancipation would be a slam dunk.

  17. firefly…. very few of us come from perfect families, or have perfect parents.

  18. I don’t believe she should receive anything. She set the conditions that her parents objected to and as a result she was told to leave. She voluntarily jeopardized her tuition costs by not respecting the parents’ conditions. (Either follow the house rules or risk losing her future tuition) I don’t think she should prevail.

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