Teen sues parents for college money

Rachel Canning at a preliminary court appearance on 4 March, 2014. A judge wonders whether Rachel Canning's case will "open the gates to a 12-year-old suing for an Xbox"

At age 41, I'm probably too young to ask what the deal is with kids today, but... What's the deal with kids today?

Last week we heard of the daughter whose Facebook bragging cost her father a hefty age-discrimination settlement. Now there's this:

According to New Jersey's Daily Record, a high school student who left home when she turned 18 is suing her parents to get them to fund her college education. Depending on whom you ask, she was either thrown out by her mum and dad or departed on her own accord because she didn't want to live by their rules anymore.

Peggy Wright reports that Rachel Canning is asking a court to order her parents to pay the balance of her private high school tuition, cover rent and living expenses and "commit an existing college fund to their daughter".

On Tuesday, a New Jersey superior court judge ruled that there was no "emergency basis" to award Rachel money immediately for her outstanding high school tuition and living expenses.

Start Quote

Just because you can vote, work, enlist in the armed forced and get married doesn't mean your parents are no longer obliged to care for you”

End Quote Mary Elizabeth Williams Salon

In announcing his decision, Judge Peter Bogaard wondered about the precedent the case may set.

"What will the next step be?" he asked "Are we going to open the gates to a 12-year-old suing for an Xbox?"

Another hearing is set for 22 April, when lawyers will bring in supporting witnesses. In the meantime Rachel is living with a friend, whose father is bankrolling the lawsuit (reimbursement for legal fees incurred is also part of the case).

"The father contended that Rachel moved out because she didn't want to abide by simple household rules - be respectful, keep a curfew, return 'borrowed' items to her two sisters, manage a few chores, and reconsider or end her relationship with a boyfriend the parents believe is a bad influence," reports Wright.

The issue, it seems, turns on whether Rachel is "emancipated" from her parents under state law. If a court finds she isn't, then the parents may have to foot the bill. If she is, then she's on her own.

"Contrary to a popular opinion - and that private countdown clock ticking away in many parents' minds - a child is not automatically legally let loose to fend for him- or herself upon reaching an 18th birthday," writes Salon's Mary Elizabeth Williams. "Just because you can vote, work, enlist in the armed forced and get married doesn't mean your parents are no longer obliged to care for you."

If that 18-year-old is still a student, for instance, the parent-child ties may still bind.

Start Quote

Is this a case of a spoiled rich girl wanting something for nothing or do her parents owe her?”

End Quote Erin Edgemon AL.com

Williams says that she can see both sides of the dispute:

It's hard for the many, many of us who cobbled together our educations while working thankless, crappy jobs to have a lot of sympathy for an able-bodied, intelligent girl who'd haul her parents into court to make them pay for college. But it's also got to be a humiliating and very scary blow for a high school student to have her folks stop supporting her and paying her current tuition.

The case has garnered widespread attention, as Rachel's Facebook (again - parents, take heed!) pictures, including bikini and cheerleading photos, have been spread far and wide across the Internet.

"Well, that's one way to get back at your parents," writes Matt Pearce of the Los Angeles Times.

"Is this a case of a spoiled rich girl wanting something for nothing or do her parents owe her?" asks Erin Edgemon on the Birmingham News website AL.com.

The Australia website News.com.au - yes, the story has gone global - seems to know the answer to that question, with its headline: "Spoiled teen Rachel Canning takes parents to court".

Lisa Needham of the blog Happy Nice Time People has a message for Rachel.

"Many a grown person is not allowed to live under Mommy and Daddy's roof because they are terrible adult layabouts who were overindulged as children and never grew out of it, which is pretty much how you sound," she writes.

She continues:

New Jersey courts, we beg of you, do not reward this behavior or you will have parents who are now legally stuck with their horrible adult offspring standing outside your doors with pitchforks in no time.

There's more to this case than just name-calling and parents-said, daughter-said, however. In a society where a college education is usually an essential key to a successful future, do parents have an obligation to provide this for their children?

In this case in particular, if parents have already set aside money in a college fund, does that child have a claim on it?

And finally, do we really live in the kind of society in which familial arguments can turn into acrimonious court disputes in which no one is likely to come out a winner?

Wait, I already know the answer to that one.



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  • rate this

    Comment number 160.

  • rate this

    Comment number 159.

    To be honest, this sounds like the plot of a Brewsters Millions kind of film. Teen sues Parents, wins case, but judge who has been drinking "herbal" tea rules that she will only receive the court money if she learns to fend for herself and pay her own way for a year.

  • rate this

    Comment number 158.

    My house, my rules. When it was my parents' house I had the choice of living within their rules (which weren't unreasonable) or moving out and fending for myself. The rules were far less unpleasant than the job I'd probably have ended up doing to pay rent elsewhere,

  • rate this

    Comment number 157.

    BBC HYS you really do have your problems. FIX THEM

  • rate this

    Comment number 156.

    I know California has clear laws that define gifts and essentially includes a "no take backs" approach unless the details of the loan were made explicit in advance. This protects minors from having to pay back parents for things like middle school or food for instance. In this framework, the problem is whether the formation of the college fund, demonstrating clear intent, counts as a gift.

  • rate this

    Comment number 155.

    72.Sineidinno - "... There are allegations she was abused... assuming, for the sake of argument that is true, at what point are parents entitled to condition parental responsibilities on the child submitting herself to abuse?"

    The answer to your question is NEVER. If this was a case abuse it would be 1) recorded and 2) the story wouldnt be going global.

  • rate this

    Comment number 154.

    I wonder which colleges and future employers will conduct a search (or even just google) her name and then proceed to admit/hire her after this?

  • Comment number 153.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 152.

    Typical legal rubbish. I was surprised a lawyer took on this case in the first place... Until I realised it was in the US.

    If you live under your parents roof and expect them to support you and your expensive privilaged education then you live by their (reasonable) rules.

    Typical of the attitude of today... One of entitlement rather than "earningment".

  • rate this

    Comment number 151.

    As a parent of an 18 year old student, I always tell them " when you are in your own house you be able to do whatever you want, while in mine there are rules, if you don't like them you are free to move out"!!!
    Then I list all the costs associated with that move, usually starting with the cost of broadband/WiFi - funnily enough I never get any further down the list than that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 150.

    It should be realized that parenting is not just about "funding or bankrolling". If a child feels he/she is too "big" at 18 to be under his/her parents, he/she might as well consider it too big to be funded by the parents. Where is the world heading? Very soon, there may be "equality law" that makes children equal to their parents at home! Then children do not have to obey parents any longer!

  • rate this

    Comment number 149.

    In todays world, we tend to forget every relationship for Money

  • rate this

    Comment number 148.

    Your children are your link to the future.

    You got an old couple who will be lonely not hearing from their child and only seeing her in dreams. Then one will die and the other will be alone and sad and mad in old age

  • rate this

    Comment number 147.

    Interesting prospect of a counter claim here whilst they are at it.
    Just on the economics side, the sureal progression of the rights-to-money argument would be for parents to claim a return on that additional schooling investment - "From here on I invest in you, kiddo, rather than my retirement fund, but you pay me a cut of your future
    extra salary to replace my future loss".
    Sad story.

  • rate this

    Comment number 146.

    Law versus Morality

    From a legal point of view all parents can hoof their kids out the home at 18 and count the pennies that they aren't spending, but morally they don't

    Morality is best to control behaviour. Reconciling differences and supporting children is what true parents do, no questions asked

  • rate this

    Comment number 145.

    Her Parents should have paid for her college without her needing to sue.
    You cannot scrimp funds that would be a life investment to open doors and improve your daughters chances in life. It's a cut throat world out there and the resentment that they inflicted on their child will be carried forever. Instead of building bridges they built a wall to cut off their child for life & are the real losers

  • rate this

    Comment number 144.

    sort out your problems - the problem is, you to busy moderating, sort it out

  • rate this

    Comment number 143.

    Such is life and stories between parents and children. I read many and what are now classic books about these relations. It never occurred to me that it could happen to us as well. At the ripe old age my wife and I have to learn how to deal with it, and how to live the rest of our lives practically alone.

  • rate this

    Comment number 142.

    Respect to those parents. I SALUTE you, I RESPECT you, you are my hero's. Well done, you are real role models. A last of a (VERY quickly) dying bread.

  • rate this

    Comment number 141.

    Maybe if she had a bit more respect for her parents she would realise that money doesn't grow on trees, and that her parents have worked and saved hard to put together this college fund for her and support her at the same time. Where is the gratitude? By the sounds of it she should be glad they kept her till she was 18.

    I would be very interested to hear which degree course she hopes to take.


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