Last week, a judge in Camden County, New Jersey, in a case reminiscent of the Rachel Canning case in Morris County, has ordered that the divorced parents of 21-year-old Caitlyn Ricci pay for her education at a school of her choice, to the tune of $16,000. The parents are appealing the decision.

Why Did the Judge Rule That Way?

The case upon which the judge based his ruling was a NJ Supreme Court decision which remanded the case back to the lower court for the determination of whether the child was emancipated, and if not, entitled to support. It even observed that, "Generally parents are not under a duty to support children after the age of majority."

They also said that "attainment of age 18 establishes prima facie, but not conclusive, proof of emancipation. . . . Whether a child is emancipated at age 18, with the correlative termination of the right to parental support, depends upon the facts of each case."  So all that case does is tell the trial judge that parents MAY be liable for the costs, not that they SHOULD, and that each court must determine if the child is emancipated. These cases are fact sensitive.

So What's the Story?

So what are the facts? The parents, Michael Ricci and Maura McCarvey, stated that they would pay for their daughter to attend an in-state school if she lived at home and followed house rules. They, in fact, paid for classes at Rowan College at Gloucester County (then Gloucester County College). When the girl didn't complete classes there, they set her up in an internship program in Florida. She was subsequently asked to leave the program.

The parents then cracked down, saying enough is enough, forcing an estrangement, where the daughter went to live with her paternal grandparents. The lawsuit followed, financed by the grandparents. Apparently, Caitlyn wants to attend Temple University, not an in-state school.

There Oughta Be a Law!

In reaction to cases like this, Assemblyman Christopher Brown, out of Burlington, has said that he plans to propose a bill that would block adult children from suing their parents for college tuition. While not arguing that parents should not pay to educate their children, he fears the precedent this case could set.

Can't We All Just Get Along?

What I find disturbing about this is that there does not seem to be any middle ground here. On the one hand, parents should not be forced to pay more than they can afford for college, but on the other, they should give their children the opportunities that a college education affords.

What if Caitlyn's parents had said, "We will contribute X dollars for a school we can afford. If you want to go to a more expensive one out of state, then you can make up the difference." Caitlyn could take out some student loans, get a part time job, or do whatever else it takes to make it happen.

What I worry about is the state dictating to parents how much they must come up with in college money. Why can't they make the decision themselves based on their financial situation?

But what do you think? Do you think that the parents should be ordered to pay the cost of whatever school Caitlyn wants to attend, or should they have some say in how much they will pay? Leave me your thoughts in the comments!


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