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How Will Rachel Canning's Lawsuit Affect Her Paying for College?

Posted on Mar 06, 2014

Many of us here in New Jersey (and, in fact, across the country) are following the case of 18-year-old Rachel Canning, who is suing her parents for support after leaving (or being forced to leave) her parents' home and live with a friend, while still a senior in high school.

She says she wants them to take care of an outstanding $5,306 Morris Catholic tuition bill, pay her current living and transportation expenses, and free up her existing college fund, as she’s already been accepted to several universities.  Oh, and she wants them to pay her $12,000+ legal bill!

How Much Longer Are the Parents on the Hook?

The question becomes to what extent her parents are still responsible for her expenses, even though she is no longer living with them.  The judge last Tuesday denied Ms. Canning emergent relief, pending a full hearing in April, but his demeanor indicated that he was not sympathetic to her cause.

She wants the court to order her parents to finish paying for her high school education, but what about college?  She wants her college fund money, but what if that is not enough?  What if she needs more?

How Will She Handle Financial Aid Applications?

She is in her senior year, already accepted by several colleges, so she needs to fill out the FAFSA form to seek out financial aid.  Deadlines are looming for her schools, and she needs to get that done.  One outstanding question is, is she still a dependent of her parents now that she moved out of the house?  Ironically enough, she might not want to be!

If she does not heal her relationship with her parents, she could find paying for college more difficult.  If she is a dependent, her parents' income counts and contributes to the Effective Family Contribution towards college costs. This would reduce the Stafford money she could receive from the Department of Education, and perhaps other moneys that the schools may offer.

Could She Get More Money On Her Own?

In addition, dependent students receive less in Stafford money overall than emancipated ones.  Thus being emancipated from her parents could be the best thing for her.  If the judge declares her emancipated (or she marries her boyfriend), then her parents' income would not come into play, and she could get significantly more Stafford money.

On the other hand, if the judge denies her request for support and does not specifically emancipate her, her aid could drop. Plus, if her parents remain obdurate on helping her with Parent PLUS or other loans, she could find herself in quite a financial bind making up the difference.

It will be interesting to see how this case turns out, but I suspect that the outcome will be rather ironic, and not exactly what this young person was hoping for!

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Steven J. Richardson
Bankruptcy, Collections, Student Loan, DUI and Traffic Court attorney in Woodbury, NJ.