No Emancipation Before Matriculation: New Jersey Woman Secures Court Order To Force Parents To Pay Her College Tuition

caitlyn-ricciThere 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?

Source: ABC

66 thoughts on “No Emancipation Before Matriculation: New Jersey Woman Secures Court Order To Force Parents To Pay Her College Tuition”

  1. My friend is in a similar situation, she was homeschooled her whole life. Her parents wouldn’t let her go to church or hang out with friends she had made at church. The worst part is her dad works for the FBI. She now lives with her grandparents. She had saved up a total of $3,500 from when she began working but since the account the money was put into was under her parents name they took it from her when she left. She wants to go to college but cannot afford to because she cannot get financial assistance from the government because when they look at her FAFSA application even though she made it clear her parents were not supporting her in any way, they took into account how much her parents make, since her dad is in the FBI its a good amount. She cannot go to college because her parents won’t pay. She is barely 19 and has to pay for classes at a community college, phone bill, clothes, etc, because she can’t get financial aid from her parents or the government. If you don’t think her parents should pay then the government shouldn’t take into account her parents income when she applies for financial aid. Parents should not be able to keep their children under lock and key at all times.

    1. I do wonder why she can’t get student loans. I know of someone who when asked about parents for a student loan, said no contact (or estranged). With a government urging everyone to go to college, which is not really a good
      idea, the help of student loans should not be denied because of family estrangement. If she wants to go to Temple and is willing to bog herself down with student loan repayments, let her. Is there something in the law that says student loans are only available to happy families?

      The problem with most of our laws is we are not “cookie cutter” people. So laws having the same rules for everybody must be written with a great deal of flexibility.

  2. Financial aid availability is based upon parents income and assets, even after the age of majority for a student, unless one jumps through many hoops to demonstrate legal independence. This might be worth taking into account in analyzing this decision.

  3. I wonder what this will do to her future employment chances?

    I suppose it will increase them if she wants to go into Liberal companies. Otherwise, she looks like a spoiled, selfish tyrant to responsible business owners.

  4. I saw elsewhere that they offered to pay for an in-state school but she insisted on going to Temple, which was out of state and much more expensive, instead.

  5. Paul – don’t remind me! The Browndoggle Bullet Train to Nowhere is such a shameless fraud on Californians. It will do zero to fix our gridlock, our pockmarked streets, it’s been proven projected ridership was wildly inflated, it will take 3 times as long as promised and require several train transfers, and yet we’re wasting billions of dollars, seizing properties by eminent domain, all so a couple of people who can afford it can vacation in San Francisco, and pad the unions fat wallets.

    1. Karen – the Browndoogle is not designed to be finished. It is just designed to suck money from other projects. It is a shiny object. Look, look, a shiny object.

  6. @WRXDAVE,its not license to bankrupt the parents, the obligation is contingent on an expansive inquiry into the totality of the circumstances, offhand not sure what the legal test is, but its like a 10 prong test which takes into account the income of the parents.

  7. With college debt often costing tens of thousands of dollars or more, she could easily bankrupt her parents. Is there a limit to the obligation? BS/BA? Graduate school? Advanced degrees? Ongoing Education? Multiple degrees? At what point does this mythical obligation end? What then are her return obligations to her parents in their old age? If they become sick and disabled when she is enjoying the benefits of the advanced education that they have provided?

    I was tossed out homeless to live in my car at 18, while in community college, but with no job and no place to live at the height of winter. I found a way to work and survive (though college was history for over a year) – no help from the state or anybody else. I may not have smelled great every day in the beginning – but I got by.

    I have little sympathy for this girl.

  8. Why is this being presented as something unusual?

    Divorced parents are commonly assigned an obligation to provide children a college education. It’s happening right now in courtrooms across the country thousands of times over. Judges often reject marital settlement agreements that do not contain such obligations, and a marital settlement agreement or divorce decree can later be revised by the court. This is especially true when the best interests of the children are at stake.

    What’s different here?

  9. Well isn’t she a special snowflake? Don’t like the parents rules? Well, just move elsewhere and stop communicating with the parents, except for demands made through an attorney.

    Gimme gimme gimme. And just wait until the demand is made for the cost of a full Jersey Princess wedding.

    When I left for university, my dad gave me a hearty handshake, my mom hugged me, and off I went. One year later they built a home that had one less bedroom. I could not imagine relying on my parents, moving back in with them, or any other sort of dependency. I paid my own way. It took seven years, but I had no debt, and some great work experience along the way.

    As did most of my friends at that time. Then we somehow managed to raise twatwaffles and pajama boys who were led to believe that the universe revolves around themselves. We screwed up.

  10. As many on this board, I’m fairly conservative and I am from NJ. Maybe you need to be from here to understand the ruling? Perhaps, perhaps not.The concept of extended adolescence is well entrenched in NJ. I went through it too, I might add, quite voluntarily — I lived with my parents until I was married at the age of 31 (snicker all you want, but I had 80K in the bank to buy a home, money that would’ve been spent on rent).

    Anecdotally, in my 20’s and my weekend warrior days, we had a flag football team and one of our players was from PA. He remarked, “What do all of you guys live with your moms?”

    Answer, “Doesn’t your mom love you?”

    All kidding aside, I have children now, I am raising them in NJ, and I acknowledge my duty (both moral and LEGAL) to raise them which includes some reasonable duty to provide support beyond the age of 18 which necessarily includes at least some portion of the cost of higher education.

    That duty is also dependent on parental income as well.

    As an aside this case is NOT a case of first impression, these cases have a history here in NJ now and in my opinion, the courts have their fingers on the pulse of the culture in NJ.

  11. So, I’ve been rethinking my decision to go to law school 36 years ago. Maybe that was a mistake, after all. My remaining GI Bill benefits have long since expired, so I think I’ll hit my 93-year-old parents up for medical school tuition.

    Seriously, though, having just put three daughters through college, I certainly would not have voluntarily ponied up for them if they had told me that they wanted nothing else to do with me (other than the normal “I hate you” issues that go with having kids who are starting to explore their independence from the family. All my kids still come home for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

    I find the forced payment for college to be simply ridiculous.

    1. Porkchop – If you go after your parents you are setting precedent for your kids. Sounds like an ugly cycle to me. Besides, if you hold out long enough you might get the money anyway. 😉

  12. This looks completely mad – until you realise it cleverly transfers the heat from extortionate tertiary education fees from govt onto parents. Trouble is, if this goes ahead and the precedent is established, it is effective retroactive legislation. It is too late, with a 20 year old, to decide it might be a good idea to not have children.

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