Honors Student, 18, Sues Parents Over Paying for College

By Aditi Mukherji, JD on March 04, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A New Jersey honors student is suing her parents for financial support and access to her college fund after they allegedly cut her off when she turned 18.

Rachel Canning, a Morris Catholic High School cheerleader and lacrosse player, left her parents' home (voluntarily, according to her parents, though she says it was by force) after refusing to follow house rules, the Daily Record reports.

The teenager then filed a lawsuit against her parents to cover her private school and future college costs. Oh, and she wants them to pay her legal bills, too.

Kids these days -- or is it parents these days?

'Family Law'

As a general rule of thumb, it's best to try to avoid having the courts act as a mediator in your family affairs. It's awkward for all parties involved, including the legal system. Courts are reluctant to get involved in family disputes without evidence of abuse or extreme behavior.

There are laws that say parents shall not abuse or neglect their children. And parents are expected to feed, clothe, and shelter their children or face potential criminal charges. Aside from those situations, courts generally like to respect the way parents rear their children.

Though abuse allegations are being made in this case, they're a bit removed from the larger legal question: Is it possible for Canning to require Mom and Dad foot her private school and future college bills?

Dependent or Not?

Canning filed the lawsuit last week, seeking a judge's declaration that she is not emancipated and remains dependent on her parents for support, the Record reports.

In New Jersey, a child is emancipated when he or she "has moved beyond the sphere of influence and responsibility exercised by a parent and has obtained an independent status of his or her own," according to court documents.

Canning allegedly moved to a friend's house when she turned 18, after she refused to follow her parents' rules about curfew, chores, dumping her boyfriend, and returning "borrowed" items to her sisters. Still, moving out of the house and not getting along doesn't necessarily relieve the parents of their responsibility.

The fact that she turned 18 also doesn't automatically mean her parents can stop financial support. According to a key New Jersey court decision, "A child's admittance and attendance at college will overcome the rebuttable presumption that a child may be emancipated at age 18."

We encourage consulting family law attorneys to handle legal issues, but this peculiar family feud isn't exactly what we had in mind...

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