Teen Sues Parents for Cash, College Tuition. Does She Have a Case?
Photo: Rachel Canning/FacebookA New Jersey teenager claiming that her mother and father tossed her out of their home and cut her off financially is suing them for immediate support, current private-school fees and future college tuition. The parents, meanwhile, say that daughter Rachel Canning, 18, moved out voluntarily after refusing to abide by their rules.
"We love our child and miss her. This is terrible. It's killing me and my wife," Rachel's father, Sean Canning, a town administrator and retired police officer, tells the Daily Record. "We have a child we want home. We're not Draconian and now we're getting hauled into court. She's demanding that we pay her bills but she doesn't want to live at home, and she's saying, ‘I don't want to live under your rules.'" The rules, he notes, include reconsidering her relationship with a boyfriend who may be a bad influence, being respectful, and abiding by her curfew. He and his wife, Elizabeth, who live in suburban Lincoln Park, about 25 miles outside of New York City, have kept their daughter's car because they paid for it, says Canning, and he admits that they did stop paying Rachel's tuition at the private Morris Catholic High School. A hearing is scheduled to take place on Tuesday in the Morris County Superior Court.
For months, Rachel - an honor student, cheerleader, and lacrosse player - has been living with the family of her best friend and classmate, Jaime Inglesino, whose father, attorney John Inglesino, is bankrolling Rachel's lawsuit. He's also requesting in the lawsuit that the Cannings reimburse him for the legal fees, so far totaling $12,597, according to the paper.
Rachel's attorney, Tanya Helfand, is not taking calls as she prepares for Tuesday's hearing, her office tells Yahoo Shine. Rachel did not return a call from Yahoo Shine, and the Morris County court was closed on Monday due to inclement weather. But the Daily Record reports that, in the suit, Rachel alleges that her parents decided to cut her off "from all support both financially and emotionally" as of her 18th birthday, which was November 1. Her suit also demands the following of the Cannings: that they take care of an outstanding $5,306 Morris Catholic tuition bill; pay their daughter's current living and transportation expenses; and free up her existing college fund, as she's already been accepted to several universities.
It's not unheard of for youngsters to take legal action against their parents for various offenses - from a pregnant Texas teen who sued her parents for allegedly pressuring her to get an abortion, to a pair of Illinois siblings in their 20s who sued their mom (unsuccessfully) for bad mothering. Even so, the Canning case is an extremely unusual one, according to experts in family law. That's because similar suits typically involve either a divorce situation, with parents disagreeing on a child's financial support, or a fight for emancipation, in which a teen is declared financially independent from parents.
"This young woman is actually saying, ‘I want to compel the court to continue to support me financially. That's what's unique in this case," Mary Coogan, assistant director of the nonprofit Advocates for Children of New Jersey, tells Yahoo Shine. "So this young lady is in a unique situation because it does become very fact-sensitive. There's really no law directly on point." What families in similar situations have done, in Coogan's experience, is to file for what's called a "family crisis petition," in which the court will try to mediate an agreeable outcome between the parents and their child.
Talking the situation through would be a better route than a lawsuit, Kenneth Neumann, a New York divorce mediator and psychologist with the Center for Mediation & Training, tells Yahoo Shine. "We often use the legal system as a way to deal with disagreements when we should be using therapy or mediation," he says, noting that Rachel's case is "extremely rare," and that he's "not had a case like this in 30 years," with the most unique angle being that the parents are not in disagreement. Unfortunately for Rachel, Neumann says, "I don't think she has much of a case. This sounds like just another 18-year-old who got into a thing with her parents."