As reported by NJ.com, a Superior Court judge today refused to order a Lincoln Park couple to pay private school and college tuition for their 18-year-old daughter who moved out of their house and is suing for financial support.
“Do we want to establish a precedent where parents live in basic fear of establishing rules of the house?” Family Division Judge Peter Bogaard asked.
Rachel Canning, a senior at Morris Catholic High School, went to court to force her parents, Sean and Elizabeth Canning, to pay her child support, her private school tuition, medical and related bills, college expenses and legal fees. Canning is an honor student and athlete, but her parents have stopped paying her bills because, they say, she would not obey their rules.
Bogaard refused to issue the requested emergency order, which would have awarded the teen more than $600 a week.
The judge said no emergency exists because Morris Catholic has said Canning may continue attending the school despite her tuition not being paid, and because the final deadline of May 1 has not yet arrived for college applications. Morris Catholic’s annual tuition is $12,700; Rachel owes $5,306, court papers say.
The judge’s decision followed a more than two-hour hearing in Morristown. The Cannings and their daughter sat on opposite sides of the courtroom, rarely exchanging glances. Both sides appeared tense and sad. Several of Rachel Canning’s friends were seated in the gallery.
Bogaard scheduled another hearing for April 22. The case may be headed for trial on the key issue of whether Rachel Canning was “emancipated” from her parents when she defied their order to stop seeing her boyfriend and instead moved out of their house on Oct. 30, two days before she turned 18.
Rachel Canning said in court papers that she has been living for the past four months at the home of her best friend, the daughter of Morris County attorney who has “advanced” her legal fees.
Her parents countered that she voluntarily left home because she didn’t want to abide by house rules, such as being respectful, keeping a curfew, doing a few chores and ending a relationship with a boyfriend they said was a bad influence.
Rachel remains “unemancipated,” or dependent on her parents, because she needs their support to complete her education at Morris Catholic and to pay for her college education, her attorney said.
Rachel’s attorney further alleged that the Cannings treated their daughter in an “abnormal” way that made it “untenable” for her to stay in the house. For instance, the attorney claimed that Sean Canning would not allow Rachel to have a boyfriend while a senior in high school. Rachel Canning also claims her parents are abusive, contributed to an eating disorder she developed and pushed her to get a basketball scholarship.
The parents’ attorney countered that Rachel could easily have stayed at the house, which she said had “a loving, nurturing environment.
“She voluntarily decided to leave because she didn’t like the rules they were imposing, and that makes her “emancipated.”
Bogaard cited a vulgar voice mail left by Rachel for her mother. “Have you ever seen a child show such gross disrespect for a parent?” he asked. “Is there a point at which a parent can say they don’t have to pay for college?”
The judge also cited certifications submitted by the Sean and Elizabeth Canning about their daughter’s alleged history of staying out and drinking during the week. Once, he said, she was driven home by her boyfriend’s parents at 3 a.m.
“What kind of parents would the Cannings be if they did not discipline her?” he asked. “The Cannings had the right to set up rules.”
Despite the apparently wide gap between Rachel and her parents, Bogaard held out hope for a possible reconciliation.
He read a letter Rachel sent to her parents in October, the month that she left the house.
“Hey guys, I want to apologize for my actions,” Rachel said. “I really need to realize there are consequences for the things that I do. I am trying to change. I do miss you guys. I am trying to turn over a new leaf.”
Then, the judge said, “This family is well worth the effort to salvage. It does appear more energy has been utilized to tear up this family than to figure out how it can be brought back together.”