Judge: No, parents can't be forced to financially support their disobedient 18-year-old child

C’mon. In the new America, you’re not really an adult until you’re 26. Maybe longer, depending on the next unilateral executive rule change.

This case had to end this way, didn’t it?

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…

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…

She said the Cannings treated their daughter in an “abnormal” way that made it “untenable” for her to stay in the house. For instance, Helfand said, 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 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.

Rachel claims that her father was “inappropriately affectionate” with her, which, if true, makes her new financial predicament an egregious injustice and, if false, makes her the Bad Seed. (The verdict is already in online.) She’s stuck now with a $5,300 tuition bill for her first semester of senior year of high school. One odd wrinkle at first blush about this very odd case is that the outcome seems to turn heavily on perceptions of the girl’s behavior even though that’s seemingly not the issue. The issue, you might think, is purely whether a mother and father can be held responsible financially for a child who’s reached legal age. Watch the clip below and you’ll find the judge scolding her for being disrespectful to her parents, a reference to a witheringly profane voicemail message Rachel left for her mother awhile back. If she had been a perfect angel, ruthlessly booted from the house on her 18th birthday by her cheapskate parents, should the ruling have gone the other way?

Actually … yeah, probably:

Though Canning is 18 years old, New Jersey law does not consider a person to be emancipated unless that person has left “the scope of his or her parents’ authority,” according to [lawyer Stephanie Frangos] Hagan.

“A parent is not obligated to contribute to the support of an emancipated child,” said Hagan. “A child is emancipated when he or she is beyond the control of the parents. Is she truly beyond the scope of her parents’ authority, as a result of her own voluntary acts? That’s for the judge to decide.”…

“To be clear, my clients never abandoned nor abused their child and they have asked her to come home. They simply sought to exert their own parental judgment and reasonable household rules which she is not willing to accept,” [the parents’ attorney, Laurie] Rush-Masuret said in court Tuesday.

If the issue is as simple as “is she of legal age or isn’t she?” then all the behavioral stuff is beside the point. Mom and dad have an absolute right to cut her off when she’s 18, whether she deserves tough love or not. But apparently it’s not as simple as that; be an angel and remain within your parents’ “control” and they’re still on the hook to support you. There … must be an age limit to that idea (I hope), but in this case it’s immaterial. That’s why the judge cares so much whether she’s been disrespectful or disobedient. The more rebellious she is, the stronger the parents’ argument that she’s effectively emancipated herself and is on the hook for her own tuition going forward. Long story short: If you want to mooch off mom and dad, be nice.

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David Strom 6:01 AM on June 06, 2023