A strange family court case out of New Jersey is making headlines across the country, as news outlets are rushing to report on an unemancipated teenage girl who is suing her parents for child support. The case, being held in Morris County, pins Rachel Canning against her parents, Sean and Elizabeth Canning.
The plaintiff is claiming that her parents, the defendants, have stopped providing emotional and financial support as of Fall 2013, after the plaintiff moved out of her childhood home. Rachel claims that her parent's kicked her out, while her parents say she ran away because she did not want to follow the set of rules they were trying to enforce. In the suit, Rachel is demanding that the defendant's pay the remaining tuition bill for her private high school, provide payment for college costs, and pay $650 per week in child support.
This past Tuesday, March 4th, Judge Peter Bogaard issued his first ruling on the controversial case. Honorable Bogaard shot down the teen's plea for financial assistance, both in the form of child support and high school tuition fees, citing the plaintiff's court certification saying Morris Catholic had elected to cover the cost of her tuition due to her status as an honor roll student. In regards to the emergency petition for child support, Bogaard did not determine that this particular situation is an emergency and vowed to address the issue further in an April court date.
The unusual case goes beyond a bid for financial support, according to court documents. The plaintiff has previously made allegations of ongoing abuse, which were later investigated and deemed false by NJ's Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP). Rachel claims she was thrown out of her parent's house and as a punishment to both her and Morris Catholic High School, the defendant's refused to pay the remaining balance for tuition. Sean and Elizabeth Canning remain adamant that Rachel left on her own accord.
While this case is, as most others are, very "he said, she said", experts are rushing to weigh in. New Jersey based family law attorney Stephanie Frangos Hagan believes that a case such as this one is unprecedented and unheard of. According to Hagan, a child or teenager in New Jersey can only be considered emancipated if he or she is no longer under the scope of their parent's authority. Some practitioners may argue that Rachel should be considered emancipated because she no longer lives under her parent's influence since she has left their home, but Hagan believes the ultimate decision lies with Judge Bogaard.
The reason why this case is making headlines is because, depending on how the judge rules, a new precedent can be set that would result in teenagers engaging in frivolous lawsuits against their parents. Honorable Bogaard touched on this concern during the March 4th hearing, saying that this kind of case can "condone or open the gates to a 12 year old to sue for an X-Box, a 13 year old to sue for an iPhone. 'Everyone else has one, why can't I?'". Additionally, if the plaintiff proves to be successful in suing the defendants for access to her college fund, it can lead to a slew of other children suing their parents in an attempt to be supported financially beyond any previous legal obligation that the parents had.
Social media users have jumped at the chance to voice their opinions on the case. Some believe Rachel is an entitled and spoiled brat who wants to live by her own rules while her parents continue to support her financially. On the other hand, some believe that her parents are partially at fault for the lawsuit, claiming that they raised a child who is accustomed to having things handed to her. Regardless of their individual viewpoints, both the public and media outlets will continue to be fascinated with this story as it further unfolds.