An important case is currently playing out in New Jersey that is raising questions as to whether a young adult is entitled to college support from his or her parents.
Curiously, as the law in New Jersey and many other states currently stands, married parents aren’t required to pay for any of their children’s college costs once they reach the age of majority. Divorced parents, or parents that never married, however, are.
The case in question is that of 21-year-old Caitlyn Ricci. In October, a New Jersey Family Court judge ruled that Caitlyn Ricci’s parents, Michael Ricci and Maura McGarvey, must pay $16,000 of their daughter’s $26,000 annual college expenses. The judge cited Newburgh v. Arrigo, 88 N.J. 529 (1982). In that case, the state Supreme Court ruled that divorced parents are responsible for paying for their child’s college education.
According to an article Michael Ricci wrote on Wednesday for Yahoo Parenting, Caitlyn Ricci was kicked out of a Disney internship for underage drinking. He says his daughter then became upset when he and McGarvey set ground rules that included chores and a curfew. In February 2013, Caitlyn Ricci left to live with her paternal grandparents, who have helped fund her lawsuit against her parents.
(Note: Caitlyn Ricci’s lawyer, Andrew Rochester, told Yahoo Parenting that her parents made it clear they were unwilling to pay for any of her college education.)
New Jersey law currently requires Michael Ricci and Maura McGarvey, who say they haven’t spoken to their daughter outside of court in two years, to not only cover a portion of their daughter’s college costs, but to pay for those costs at whatever school their daughter chooses. Caitlyn Ricci currently attends Temple University, which is located in Philadelphia, so her parents are on the hook for more expensive out-of-state tuition.
So what is the justification for forcing divorced parents to take on these costs while married parents are in the clear? As explained in this Slate.com article, the issue actually dates back to when the 26th Amendment was ratified in 1971, lowering the voting age to 18. The law was ratified in just three months, meaning legislators probably didn’t put much thought into its impact on parental obligations.
As the number of 18- to 24-year-olds heading off to college exploded from 1970 to 2010, kids of intact families no longer had any right to college support once they reached the age of majority.
But why the double standard for divorced parents?
The justification for making a distinction between divorced and intact families is that, statistically, divorce leads to disengagement between parents and their kids, which then leads to fewer divorced parents chipping in to support their sons and daughters through college.
The argument is one of age of majority vs. age of emancipation. The contention coming from Caitlyn Ricci’s camp is that the age of majority doesn’t necessitate emancipation.
The case appears far from over. Last week, Caitlyn Ricci returned to court to sue her parents for failing to pay $906 of tuition she claims they owe her for tuition from a semester she previously spent at Rowan College at Gloucester County.
Her parents, who divorced in 1997 and have both remarried and have younger children, don’t appear to be budging. Although they have agreed to pay the $906 amount, the tuition owed from Temple is a different story.
According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, attorneys for both sides met privately with a judge last Monday and again failed to reach an agreement.