A Morris Catholic High School student who claims her parents threw her out of their home has filed a lawsuit seeking a judge’s declaration that she is nonemancipated and dependent as a student on her parents.
In other words, cheerleader and lacrosse player Rachel Canning is suing her parents for immediate financial support. She filed a certification with the court declaring that on Oct. 29, 2013, her parents decided that as of Nov. 1, her 18th birthday, she would be cut off “from all support financially and emotionally.”
Rachel’s lawyer, Tanya N. Helfand, has prepared a list of demands for parents Sean and Elizabeth Canning. Included amongst her demands are that the Cannings pay Rachel’s current living and transportation expenses and commit an existing college fund to their daughter.
Rachel, who has received several acceptance letters from universities, wants her parents to pay for her college education. The Cannings have stopped paying Rachel’s Morris Catholic tuition bill; the settling of the $5,306 bill is also amongst Helfand’s demands.
Additionally, Helfand has requested that the Cannings pay their daughter’s legal fees, which already total over $12,000.
The high school student has been living with her best friend Jaime Inglesino’s family in Rockaway Township, N.J. Jaime’s father, attorney John Inglesino, hired Helfand and is funding the lawsuit.
“My parents have rationalized their actions by blaming me for not following their rules,” Rachel states in her court papers, adding also that her parents “stopped paying my high school tuition to punish the school.”
Sean Canning, meanwhile, maintains that his daughter is presenting a skewed version of what happened in the family. He has said that Rachel was never thrown out – instead, she voluntarily left home in October.
Sean Canning has said that he fears his daughter is being “enabled” by “well-intentioned but ill-informed people”, including the Inglesinos.
“We love our child and miss her,” Sean Canning said. “This is terrible. It’s killing me and my wife. We have a child we want home.”
He stated that Rachel moved out because she didn’t want to abide by ordinary, simple household rules, such as adherence to a curfew and regularly completing chores. He has also said that Rachel’s college fund is available to her and has not, as she claimed, been withdrawn or reallocated.
In court, Helfand explained that when processing claims for emancipation, New Jersey state law examines whether the child in question “has obtained an independent status of his or her own.” Thus, merely turning 18 years old is not an automatic reason to stop financial support.
“A child is not emancipated until they’re on their own,” said family-law attorney Sheldon Simon, who added that this lawsuit is highly unusual. “Even if a child and the parents don’t get along, that doesn’t relieve the parents of their responsibility.”
Also included in the court record is a letter from Morris Catholic English instructor and campus minister Kathleen Smith, who claims she witnessed a “rough encounter” between Rachel and her mother in October. According to Smith, Elizabeth Canning told Rachel that she didn’t want to speak to her daughter again.
Contradicting this record is Sean Canning’s statement that a Division of Child Protection and Permanency representative visited their home last fall. The representative found nothing amiss, “determined that Rachel was ‘spoiled’ and discontinued the investigation.”
Sean Canning has also said that his daughter had been seeing a therapist before moving out and is supposed to be taking medication.
Rachel Canning and Helfand are scheduled to appear in court on Tuesday.
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