Daughter, 18, Sues Parents for Support

I can’t count the number of times I’ve told my kids, “If you don’t like my rules, there’s the door.”

But would any of my children walk through it and then sue me for support?

Michelle Singletary writes the nationally syndicated personal finance column, “The Color of Money.” View Archive

They wouldn’t unless they had lost their everlasting minds.

Yet that’s exactly what one New Jersey teen did in a case that is getting national attention from legal experts and parents across the country.

The case involves Rachel Canning, who claims her parents kicked her out of the house when she turned 18. She is now suing them, asking a court to make them support her, finish paying for her private high school tuition and pony up the money they saved for her college education, reports the Associated Press.

Sean and Elizabeth Canning say their daughter was given a choice: Follow their rules or there’s the door. And what were the rules? Let’s see, do chores and don’t break curfew. Oh yeah, and dump the boyfriend who is a bad influence.

The parents said that shortly before her 18th birthday, Rachel told them that she was grown and could do whatever she wanted. She didn’t like their rules, so she left, reports AP. Her parents then stopped paying her high school tuition and took away the car they let her drive. They claim in court filings that their daughter is welcome to return home as long as she agrees to follow their rules.

Rachel Canning moved in with a family friend, and that friend’s parents are paying the attorney hired to sue her parents. (More on what I think about that later).

The family drama is now playing out in the courts. Rachel has asked the court to intervene and order her parents to support her.

On Tuesday, a judge basically said, “I don’t think so.”

He rejected a request from the teen to be paid $624-a-week in child support, force her parents to pay about $5,300 in tuition owed to her Catholic high school, come up with the $13,000 for legal fees and give her access to her college fund, reported Peggy Wright of The Daily Record.

During the hearing, Wright said, Sean and Elizabeth Canning held hands, “and the mother often dabbed tears from her eyes as the two-and-a-half hour hearing progressed.”

The judge “has to decide whether Canning’s parents ‘constructively abandoned’ her when she turned 18 in November but are still obligated to support her and pay for college, or whether she emancipated herself and cannot make demands on them,” according to Wright. In New Jersey, turning 18 doesn’t automatically mean parents can end support of their child.

Even so, the judge was not pleased with the teen’s tactic. During the hearing, he said: “What will the next step be? Are we going to open the gates to a 12-year-old suing for an Xbox? Do we want to establish a precedent where parents are living in constant fear of establishing basic rules of the house?”

Clearly this family needs therapy, not attorneys. As the mother of three teens, I understand the dynamics of trying to raise a responsible child who fight against rules. But as I often tell my teens: My roof. My rules.

From the reporting on this case, what you have is a troubled teen who is acting out. The parents may have pushed harder than they intended. None of us really knows what was going on in their household — except I do know that teenagers are wired to push back against restrictions. But as a parent you have to set boundaries without suffocating your kid. We should have compassion for the young lady and her parents.

But there’s also another family at fault in this case: the parents of the friend. They are fronting the money for the lawsuit, and in doing so they most definitely escalated the situation by giving a teen an opportunity to have a day in court she doesn’t need.

According to Wright’s report, here’s what the friend’s father, John Inglesino, wrote to the court to justify the hiring of a lawyer for Rachel Canning: “Rachel is likeable, communicates exceptionally well and is highly motivated to attend and excel at a college appropriate for her. That is why my wife and I have decided to fund this lawsuit. We know that if Mr. and Mrs. Canning are not required to fulfill their legal obligations as parents, that Rachel’s ability to fulfill her potential will be greatly diminished.”

I would be fuming if I were the Cannings.

Ask any of my friends, and they would say my kids are very loving and likable. Now ask me how likeable they are when I’m trying to get them to follow a rule they don’t like. They can act like brats in private.

My husband and I were in a situation similar to this case not too long ago. A close friend of one of our kids had an ugly argument with her parents eerily akin to the Canning case – asserting her independence because she was 18, acting out, etc. She called crying asking if she could come stay with us. She had left her parents’ house and was looking for refuge. We refused to take her in. We were familar with the situation and didn’t believe she was in harm’s way.

Instead, we called her parents. They asked us not to take her in because she needed to go home and work it out with them. She eventually ended up back at home and as best we can tell is doing just fine.

One more thing I’d like to add. Although I’ve often advocated that parents have a responsibility, if they are able, to pay for their child’s college education, it’s not an absolute right with no conditions. My children know they earn the privilege of having us pay for their college education by doing as well as they can in school and conducting themselves in a respectful way. And by following our rules, which are intended to help them grow into responsible adults.

Color of Money Question of the Week

It’s your turn. What do you think of the Canning case? Send your response to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Put “Teen Sues Parents For Support” in the subject line, and include your full name, city and state. Based on some of the comments the teen has received on Twitter, please keep your comments civil.

Bragging Gone Bad

And since we’re on the topic of teens behaving badly, a Facebook post by a Miami teen cost her father $80,000.

Patrick Snay was head of the Gulliver Preparatory School in Miami when he was fired, and he sued the private school for age discrimination. He won the case. He was paid $10,000 in back pay and given an $80,000 settlement and $60,000 in legal fees, reported Matthew Stucker of CNN.

But, before the settlement was paid, Snay’s daughter, a former student of the school, posted this on her Facebook page: “Mama and Papa Snay won the case against Gulliver. Gulliver is now officially paying for my vacation to Europe this summer. SUCK IT.”

Ultimately, the settlement was reversed because “Snay violated the agreement by doing exactly what he had promised not to do. His daughter then did precisely what the confidentiality agreement was designed to prevent,” according to a court ruling.

No vacation for you, young lady!

Let’s Talk Money

Want to discuss the latest financial headlines? Or do you have a personal finance question you need answered?

Join my Color of Money Live online discussion today, at noon ET.

Frequent Flier Program Changes

Starting in 2015, Delta Sky Miles members will receive miles based on their ticket price rather than the length of their flight, reports Justin Bachman of Bloomberg Businessweek.

The change, which allows fliers to earn up to 11 miles for every dollar they spend, depending on their elite status level, “is designed to reward Delta’s frequent business travelers and others who spend more for tickets rather than those who book their flight in advance to save money,” writes Bachman.

Under the current program, a $400 round-trip flight from San Francisco to New York-JFK would earn 5,172 miles, Bachman reports. Next year, the same flight would earn 2,000 miles.

New York Times Your Money columnist Ron Lieber says now is good time, if any, to opt out of the frequent flier program.

He writes: “After all, many airline perks, like getting to use a shorter security line and board the plane early enough to get your wheelie in the overhead, are now for sale on an à la carte basis at a fairly reasonable price.”

Tax Cheats

A poll by the Internal Revenue Service Oversight Board found that 12 percent of Americans believe it’s okay to cheat on their taxes.

So for last week’s Color of Money Question, I asked: “Would you turn in a tax cheat?”

“Yes I would squeal on a tax cheat,” said Maxine Johnson of the District. “I’ve spent my entire life doing things ethically and legally, and what did that do for me? Well, it allowed me to have a huge tax bill every year because as a married person I don’t qualify for most tax credits. I use a legitimate tax prep service instead of someone who ‘can get me a big refund.’ So, yes, I would squeal because I’m tired of doing right and being broke while others lie, cheat and steal and live ‘large.’”

Robert Black of Miami wrote, “Absolutely! If I knew anyone doing that, I’d certainly turn [him or her] in. I don’t like to subsidize any tax cheats.”

“I’ve read many of the online comments from those who support cheating, and they all sound like cheap rationalizations,” wrote Earl Roethke of Minneapolis. “That being said, I probably wouldn’t rat on a friend or relative. Since these are probably the only people about whom I might determine are cheating, I probably won’t be ratting on anybody!”

Tia Lewis contributed to this report.

Readers may write to Michelle Singletary at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C., 20071, or michelle.singletary@washpost.com. Personal responses may not be possible, and comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless otherwise requested. To read previous Color of Money columns, go to www.postbusiness.com.

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