April 9, 2014 | Share
The Rachel Canning Case: Court or Counselor? Sometimes one and the same
When Rachel Canning moved out of her house shortly after turning 18, it is safe to say that neither she nor her parents ever imagined that they would end up in a New Jersey courtroom potentially making precedent-setting law. What started out as conflict between parents and a rebellious teenager over standard issues such as respecting house rules, keeping curfew, and re-evaluating a relationship with a boyfriend the parents disapproved of escalated into Rachel moving in with a friend of hers, and the friend's father funding a lawsuit against Rachel's parents. Collin County Family Law Attorneys note that in the initial complaint, Rachel demanded $650 a week in child support, payment of her legal costs, payment of the remainder of her private high school tuition, and access to her college fund.
In court, Rachel claimed that her parents' disciplinary measures amounted to "mental abuse" and pointed to what other parents--specifically the parents she is now living with--allow their children to do. For their part, Mr. and Mrs. Canning stated that they were simply trying to enforce some basic respect at home, have Rachel manage a few chores, come home by 1:30am, and think about the possibly negative influence of her boyfriend. Mr. Canning, who is a retired police chief, said he refused to allow Rachel to host alcoholic parties since she and her friends are underage, and did not condone her attending alcoholic parties.
The court denied Rachel's requests for child support, legal fees and private high school tuition, but held out the question of access to her college fund until April 22, 2014. The court also referred the Cannings to family counseling, stating that a counselor's office was the more appropriate forum for this type of situation than a courtroom. While Rachel's parents openly wept in court, the Judge directed his comments at Rachel, saying that "your parents love you." Since that decision in March, Rachel's attorney filed to dismiss her lawsuit, and Rachel moved back in with her parents, who have resumed paying for her high school tuition and other expenses.
All good, right? Not quite. Immediately after moving back home, Rachel's attorney filed a new motion, this time seeking a declaration that since Rachel is now back at home and back "within her parents' sphere of influence and responsibility," she is not emancipated and therefore her parents are obligated to fund her education, including college. Collin County Family Law Attorneys explain that even assuming that Rachel will be found to be not emancipated now that she is back at home, still in high school, and presumably living within her parents' rules, the question of what her parents are obligated to pay with respect to her education is by no means settled. A good argument can be made for requiring Rachel's parents to pay for the remainder of Rachel's private high school fees, since her senior year is almost completed and they had enrolled her in the school for the 2013-2014 school year. Their obligation is as much a contractual obligation with the school as it is a moral obligation to their daughter.
But paying for higher education is a completely different issue. Collin County Family Law Attorneys point out that parents have no legal duty to pay for their children's college expenses, even if they have the financial resources to do so. In fact, parents who have the financial ability to pay for college for their children, or at least contribute to it, but refuse to do so put their children in a worse position than those kids whose parents cannot afford to pay or contribute toward higher education. This is because the parents' income will be counted for purposes of financial aid, and if the parents have resources, then the child will get less or no federally subsidized aid. A child is not considered independent, and cannot have financial aid based only on their income and resources simply because their parents refuse to pay for their education. Rachel has been accepted to several colleges and offered several substantial scholarships, but would still need help with expenses. This will be the subject of the April hearing. Stay tuned.
If you want more information regarding emancipation of minors and parents' legal obligations toward higher education, contact Collin County Family Law Attorneys.
Categories: Family Law & Divorce