New Jersey judge orders parents to pay estranged 21-year-old daughter's college tuition

Alternate headline: “America discovers new reason why no one should live in New Jersey.” If you’re feeling deja vu right now, there’s a reason: The case of Caitlyn Ricci is bizarrely similar to the case of Rachel Canning that made waves online earlier this year, after Canning moved out of the family home and sued mom and dad for child support(!) to pay her high-school tuition. The Cannings are also Jerseyites; court precedents in the state have broadly held that parents are on the hook for their kids’ schooling when the family has fractured. The novelty in the Canning case was that it was the child herself who was suing mom and dad rather than mom and dad suing each other — and not just any child but a child who had, allegedly, disobeyed her parents repeatedly and even moved out of the house. That case ended with a ruling for the parents. Rachel moved back in with them shortly afterward and later ended up needing a restraining order against the boyfriend whom mom and dad had demanded earlier that she stop seeing.

The Ricci case is similar except that Ricci’s even older than Canning was. Rachel was 18; Caitlyn is 21, an adult legally any way you slice it. And yet, under Jersey court precedent, mom and dad may need to fork over a cool 16 large annually for her tuition at Temple even though, to hear them tell it, she hasn’t said a word to them outside of court in two years. (Her parents asked her to at least attend a school in New Jersey so that the tuition burden would be lighter but she insisted on going out of state.) Even inside the courtroom, they claim, she won’t so much as look at them — despite the fact that they say they’re willing to pay her tuition after all if she rebuilds her relationship with them. Ricci now lives with her grandparents, who are fully behind her and who are even paying for the lawyer who’s suing her parents. It’s almost impossible to tell who’s lying and who’s telling the truth in a multigenerational family feud like this, but it does seem noteworthy that Ricci’s parents are united even though they’ve been divorced for many years. If she’s a good daughter who’s being mistreated by one parent, why would the other parent side with his/her ex-spouse than with their child? These people can’t be so cheap that they’d rather have a good kid go live with grandma and grandpa than help pay for her school, can they? If so, why are they offering to start paying if she starts being nice to them again?

One important footnote here: An issue in the Canning case under Jersey law was whether Rachel had been legally emancipated. If so, if she was “beyond the control of the parents,” then she’s an adult for legal purposes and no one’s under any obligation to her anymore. It so happens that Caitlyn Ricci’s parents were in the process last year of suing to have her declared legally emancipated; once Caitlyn found out that was in the works, she turned around and slapped them with the tuition lawsuit. Tell me, though, legal eagles, why do you even need an emancipation ruling in the case of a 21-year-old? Doesn’t Caitlyn reaching the age of legal adulthood constitute de facto emancipation? I don’t get it.