(Reuters) - A New Jersey student who says her parents abandoned her when she turned 18 is suing them for school costs and other expenses in a case legal experts say could set a precedent for a family’s obligation to support a child who has left home.
Rachel Canning, 18, of Lincoln Park, New Jersey, wants her parents to pay the remaining $5,000 in tuition to the Catholic high school where she is a senior and seeks access to a college fund and repayment of her legal fees, court documents show.
A cheerleader and lacrosse player at Morris Catholic High School, Canning claims her parents kicked her out of the house in November 2013 after she turned 18, the age of legal adulthood. She wound up living with a friend’s family, she said, and the upheaval has jeopardized her educational future.
Her parents, Sean and Elizabeth Canning, said their daughter left home voluntarily late last year because she did not want to follow the rules of the house, including doing chores and adhering to curfew, according to court papers.
Rachel Canning filed a lawsuit last week claiming that she is still dependent on her parents for support because she is still in school and not yet legally emancipated under New Jersey State law. In New Jersey, emancipation is not contingent on becoming a legal adult at the age of 18, but instead requires a young person to obtain “an independent status on his or her own” - such as graduation from college, obtainment of employment or marriage.
Family law experts in New Jersey say Canning’s case might set legal parameters on whether non-divorced parents in the state are obligated to pay for their children’s college education and provide other financial support after the child has left home.
New Jersey is one of several states that require divorced parents to pay for their children’s education through college, or legal emancipation, said William Laufer, a family law expert in New Jersey. So far, there is no parallel decision for intact families.
“This case is certainly unique,” Laufer said. “The question is, a kid at the age of 18 says he or she is moving out of the house - do parents have a legal obligation to support their kids until emancipation?”
Lawyers for both sides did not return phone calls seeking comment about the case, which will be heard on Tuesday afternoon by a judge in Morris County Courthouse in New Jersey.
Sean Canning, a former police chief in Lincoln Park, told local television station WCBS-TV on Monday he was “dumbfounded” that he was being sued by one of his three daughters.
He called Rachel “rebellious” and said her college fund was not in jeopardy.
“We have a college that’s available to her - there’s no doubt about that. But it’s the equivalent … of going shopping at a high-end store and sending somebody the bill,” he told the station.
Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Gunna Dickson