There’s no doubt that lawsuits in this country are on the rise. In addition to that, we’re seeing odder and odder cases reaching the courtroom each day. We’re seeing things like pet custody disputes and so called “revenge porn” cases that 15 years ago were all but unheard of. Another strange case that’s been making headlines lately and could have drastic precedent setting effects is the New Jersey high school student who is suing her parents for financial support and college tuition.
Rachel Canning, an 18-year-old high school senior, has filed a lawsuit against her mother and father alleging that she was forced out of the family home due to abuse. She is seeking financial support for living, legal, and educational expenses including college tuition. According to Canning, “I have been subjected to severe verbal and physical abuse by my mother and father. I am not willingly and voluntarily leaving a reasonable situation at home to make my own decisions. I had to leave to end the abuse,” (Ly, 2014).
Her parents, Sean and Elizabeth Canning, are fighting the lawsuit and claim their daughter left the home in rebellion to the household rules. “We were always her support team, cheering her on or defending her whenever she had a problem,” Elizabeth Canning’s court certification reads (Ly, 2014). They deny all claims of abuse. An investigation by the New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP) appears to back up the parents in this case. A letter from DCPP reads in part “allegations of emotional abuse was unfounded” (Ly, 2014).
To the best of anyone’s knowledge, all of this began last fall. In October, Rachel, an honor student and cheerleader, was suspended from her private high school for truancy. In response to this, according to her father, Sean Canning, she was told she could no longer see her boyfriend and had her car and phone privileges revoked; once Rachel learned of the punishment she decided to run away (Ly, 2014).
The case is tricky because one has to determine if Rachel Canning is emancipated. According to Stephanie Frangos Hogan, a family law attorney and New Jersey State Bar Association family law officer, while Canning is 18, New Jersey doesn’t consider her emancipated unless she has left the scope of her parents authority (Ly, 2014). As to whether or not Canning’s voluntary acts put her in that category is up to a judge to decide.
At the beginning of March, the judge presiding over the case, Judge Peter Bogaard, denied Rachel Canning’s request for high school tuition and living expenses. The matter is not entirely settled though. Another hearing will be held in April to address issues such as whether she left her home of her own accord.
The reason this case is of particular interest is because if the judge rules in favor of Rachel Canning and orders her parents to provide financial support including college tuition it could be setting a precedent. Would other teenagers or adults even (keeping in mind that Rachel is 18) begin suing their parents?