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NJ teen suing parents for child support loses first round in court

Rachel Canning
Photo: Parsippany Daily Record

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In a court case sure to make it to the television screen, a New Jersey teenager lost her preliminary lawsuit against her parents for child support and immediate access to college funds.

Morristown Judge Peter Bogaard ruled that 18-year-old Rachel Canning was not eligible for $624-a-week child support or access to her college savings because she was not living on the street and her private high school had temporarily waived her semester tuition.

Speaking before a courtroom filled with reporters, the judge implored the parties to seek family counseling.

“It does appear that more energy has been utilized up to this point to devise ways to forever tear this family apart than try to figure out how this family can somehow be brought back together,” he said.

The Morris Catholic High School honor student voluntarily left home two days before her eighteenth birthday in November, and filed suit three months later claiming abuse, neglect, and abnormal demands by her parents, the Parsippany Daily Record reported.

This “constructive abandonment” was refuted by her parents, Elizabeth and Sean Canning, who asserted that their daughter emancipated herself by uprooting from their “sphere of influence:” defying reasonable rules, consuming alcoholic beverages, and behaving disrespectfully.

The issue of an undesirable boyfriend was also raised, and the judge urged the parties to resolve their differences before an April 22 hearing in Superior Court, where bitter recriminations filed in court papers would be made public.

The quandary of the judge boiled down to “constructive abandonment” versus “constructive emancipation,’ which trods on terra incognito in New Jersey law.

Wary of setting precedent and opening a Pandora’s box of frivolous cases, Judge Bogaard wondered about questioning the bounds of parental authority.

“What will the next step be?” he mused. “Are we going to open the gates to a 12-year-old suing for an Xbox?”

Watch a segment from the hearing via the Record:

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