Morris Catholic High School student Rachel Canning sues parents for tuition, financial support

Rachel Canning claims her parents, Elizabeth and Sean Canning threw her out, but her they say she left on her own after refusing to follow family rules. (3/5/14)

MORRISTOWN - A Morris County honor student who sued her parents has been denied access to emergency money for her living expenses.

The Morris Catholic High School senior filed the suit last week, claiming her parents are still financially responsible for her even though she moved out when she turned 18 last year.

Rachel Canning claims her parents, Elizabeth and Sean Canning threw her out, but they say she left on her own after refusing to follow family rules.

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The teen's lawyer, Tanya Helfand, argued that Rachel Canning struggled with unreasonable restrictions. "Rachel's choice to have a boyfriend who is also at Morris Catholic in her senior year at high school is against their rules," she told the judge. "I would argue that's not normal."

Her father, a retired Lincoln Park police chief, says the rules also included a 1:30 a.m. curfew, being respectful and a diligent effort to make good grades. 

A complaint filed with the court outlined the contrasting claims made by both Rachel Canning and her parents.

In the complaint, the teen alleged that her father "gave me [her] a sense that he was inappropriately affectionate with me." The teen also claimed that her parents were verbally abusive on a number of occasions. 

The teen's parents said in the complaint that Rachel was "given just about everything she ever asked for, even if it mean that we [the parents] had to go without."

They said that their daughter alleged verbal and physical abuse to counselors at her school, which triggered a Department of Child Protection and Permanency investigation. They say the investigation "eventually was concluded as no abuse was found, just a spoiled child."

Judge Peter Bogaard has so far denied Rachel Canning's request for money, saying there was no emergency need. He also said any decision in this case could set a precedent for parents and their obligations after a child has left home.

"This is not about who's at fault here," Helfand says. "This is about making sure that family members, who have a significant ability to pay, pay support for their children properly and responsibly."

Rachel Canning's lawyer is reported to have been retained by the family with whom the teen has been staying.

Sean Canning believes that family is only making things worse. "She's been enabled by, I'm sure, well-meaning people, but it's the worst advice she could have," he says. "She has a loving home. She has a mother and father who loved her, two sisters, two dogs and you know, we're a normal house."

Rachel Canning is asking for immediate financial support and wants the judge to force her parents to pay for her college education and to declare that she's dependent as a student on her parents for support.

The attorney representing the parents says they never abandoned their child and would take her home immediately if she agreed to follow their rules.

Family law attorney Ken White says it won't be easy for a judge to weed through what could be very emotional arguments. "There is an underlying principle that a child is best served having a relationship with his or her parents," he says. 

White says New Jersey is one of only a dozen states that factor college tuition into child support calculations. However, that normally applies only during divorce proceedings, and this situation is more legally uncharted territory.

Another hearing is set for April 22, where more evidence could be heard and a more solid decision could be rendered.

For an extended interview with Sean Canning and extended footage of the hearing, watch the clips to the left or click News 12 Extra on Optimum TV channel 612.

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