MORRISTOWN, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — A New Jersey couple does not have to pay — for now — for their 18-year-old daughter’s college education, a judge ruled Tuesday evening.
Rachel Canning, a high school honor student, filed a lawsuit against her parents, alleging they were verbally abusive and threw her out of their Lincoln Park home for not following rules.
Superior Court Judge Peter Bogaard denied Canning’s emergency request for $600 a month in support, high school and college tuition and legal fees.
He said the sides will revisit the issue of college tuition at the end of April, about a month after Rachel Canning’s financial aid forms are due. Bogaard hinted that ruling in the teen’s favor could set a dangerous legal precedent, WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond reported.
“Do we want to establish a precedent where parents living in constant fear of establishing basic rules of the house?” he said.
LINK: Read the court documents
During Tuesday’s hearing, Rachel Canning, wearing her Morris Catholic High School uniform, barely made eye contact with her parents, CBS 2’s Alice Gainer reported.
The cheerleader and lacrosse player has been staying with a friend’s family since the beginning of November. Her friend’s father, attorney and former Morris County Freeholder John Inglesino, is bankrolling the lawsuit.
“In the four months that Rachel had been with the Inglesinos, these people have not called her, they have not come to see her, they have not sent a penny to her or to her benefactors,” the teen’s attorney, Tanya Helfand, told the judge.
“Any reasonable, caring parent would be so devastated and embarrassed by this situation, and they would reach out to the Inglesinos and they would reach out to their daughter, either through therapy or working with the Inglesinos to try and wrangle in this situation and make it right,” Helfand said.
Rachel Canning claims she endured years of abuse, including taunting by her mother that caused her to become bulimic.
Her parents say she ran away from their home shortly before she turned 18 and deny they abused her. Her father is retired Lincoln Park Police Chief Sean Canning.
The pair broke down in tears as the judge read an email that their daughter had sent to them right before she moved out that said, “I am not going to change overnight. And I ask that you bear with me. I love you guys and I’m trying to turn over a new leaf.,” CBS 2’s Hazel Sanchez reported.
“To be clear, my clients never abandoned nor abused their child, and they have asked her to come home,” their attorney, Laurie Rush-Masuret, told reporters just before entering court.
Rush-Masuret said Rachel Canning did not want to follow house rules, including making curfew and breaking up with her boyfriend whom her parents considered trouble.
“We’re good parents,” Sean Canning said. “We have nothing to hide.”
Judge Peter Bogaard noted that Rachel Canning’s behavior over the past year was a concern — one or two school suspensions, drinking, losing her captaincy on the cheerleading squad and being kicked out of the campus ministry.
“What kind of parents would the Cannings be if they didn’t set down some strict rules?” Bogaard said.
Helfand argued that her parents should have sought help for their daughter rather than cutting her off financially.
Rachel Canning — who has been accepted to several colleges, including a $20,000 scholarship to the University of Vermont — wanted the court to declare she’s nonemancipated because under the law a parent has an obligation to support their child if he or she is not emancipated.
The judge urged her and her parents to try to work out their differences, but acknowledged Rachel Canning and her mother, Elizabeth, have a dysfunctional relationship, pointing to voice mails and other evidence of the mother and daughter bitterly cursing each other out, 1010 WINS’ Sonia Rincon reported.
Brian Schwartz, chairman of the New Jersey Bar Association’s Family Law section, told WCBS 880’s Wayne Cabot earlier Tuesday the teen had an uphill battle winning in court.
“If you have a child who was in a home environment which was unsafe for her, whether it be emotionally or physically, and she fled the house … for safe harbor then she is going to be entitled to support from mom and dad,” Schwartz said. “If, on the other hand, she voluntarily decided to leave and now is looking for someone else to pay the freight, she may have a harder time.
“There comes the question as to when parents have the right to say, ‘You follow my rules under my house or else you don’t get,’ and she (Rachel Canning) seems to want both sides. … ‘I don’t want to live under your rules, but I do want your money.'”
The Cannings are due back in court on April 22.
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