There is an interesting ruling out of New Jersey where a court has ruled that parents of an estranged adult daughter must pay for her college tuition. It is a ruling that runs against the traditional view that upon a child reaching the age of majority, parents are relieved of their mandatory financial obligations just as children are emancipated from their control. We discussed a prior case where a court ruled against such an adult daughter seeking tuition. However, Caitlyn Ricci has secured a ruling that her biological parents Michael Ricci and Maura McGarvey must pay the tuition even though she moved out of their home and has seen them for years — except in court.
The ruling requires the payment of $16,000 each year so Ricci, 21, can continue classes at Temple University in Philadelphia.
She brought the action when her parents were seeking an order to have their daughter declared emancipated from them. The parents say that their daughter moved out after refusing to follow their rules and went to live with her grandparents.
The Court relied on Newburgh v. Arrigo, 88 N.J. 529 (1982), where the state Supreme Court ruled divorced parents are responsible for providing for their child’s college education. In that case, the court concluded:
Generally parents are not under a duty to support children after the age of majority. Nonetheless, in appropriate circumstances, the privilege of parenthood carries with it the duty to assure a necessary education for children. Frequently, the issue of that duty arises in the context of a divorce or separation proceeding where a child, after attaining majority, seeks contribution from a non-custodial parent for the cost of a college education. In those cases, courts have treated “necessary education” as a flexible concept that can vary in different circumstances. . . .
In the past, a college education was reserved for the elite, but the vital impulse of egalitarianism has inspired the creation of a wide variety of educational institutions that provide post-secondary education for practically everyone. State, county and community colleges, as well as some private colleges and vocational schools provide educational opportunities at reasonable costs. Some parents cannot pay, some can pay in part, and still others can pay the entire cost of higher education for their children. In general, financially capable parents should contribute to the higher education of children who are qualified students. In appropriate circumstances, parental responsibility includes the duty to assure children of a college and even of a postgraduate education such as law school.
As an academic, much of that analysis resonates with me. I do believe that college is an important part of anyone’s life and that ideally it should be available to everyone. However, it is not a mandatory stage of education and is not required for the vast majority of positions. A recent study showed that only 2 out of 5 Americans have college degrees. That is actually a number on the rise, but we still lag behind other countries like Korea, Japan, Canada and Russia with more than 50 percent of their young people holding a degree beyond high school. It is a disappointing position since the United States is widely credited with inventing mass higher educational training. We are currently ranking 13th in the world. However, there is a great difference between a desire to increase higher education and making such education as requirement for parents in supporting adult children.
While Ricci’s parents were only married for two and a half years, it was enough to bind them for the tuition.
What do you think?