While most cases of students taking their parents to court for college contributions is a private matter, the Ricci case has become a very public affair, and one that still stirs up controversy among divorced and support paying parents. Although much of the focus has been placed on the drama between Caitlyn and her parents, the real issue in this case is the question of emancipation, and the need to go beyond mere statutory requirements when deciding whether a child is truly emancipated. For those who are not familiar with the case, the basic details are as follows: In 2013,19-year-old Caitlyn Ricci moved out of her mother's house to live with her paternal grandparents. Her mother and father jointly moved to terminate child support, claiming that Caitlyn moved out on her own after repeated refusals to abide by her mother's rules. The father also claimed that their problems were exacerbated by his parents, and that he was adamantly against her living with them. Caitlyn, on the other hand, claimed that both her parents' rules were impossible to comply with, and she was forced to seek refuge with her grandparents.
The trial judge seemed to have had good intentions when he reviewed what largely appeared to be a case of “he said/she said.” However, there were some very serious issues at hand: the child support termination request, for one thing, and Caitlyn's counterclaim for tuition expenses at a college that her parents had no part in choosing. In fact, the Appellate Division recognized what they believed was the trial judge's attempt to “save the parties time and money by avoiding a plenary hearing on the subject.” However, they stressed that this was a procedural error, since the establishment of a child's emancipation, as set forth by Newburgh, was the first step in determining whether or not the parents were obligated to pay for Caitlyn's college education.
In essence, a plenary hearing would examine the events that led up to her moving in with her grandparents. If it is determined that Caitlyn moved out voluntarily, that would most likely relieve her parents of “the obligation to finance such self-determined decisions. “ On the other hand, if Caitlyn was kicked out of the home, the courts would need to protect her financial interests, which would depend on factors such as age and school status. In particular, the Appellate Division clarified that “a child's decision to seriously pursue a college education alone does not create the required dependency allowing him or her to be emancipated.” Since then, Caitlyn and her parents have made progress in healing their relationship, and she has decided not to pursue the matter any further. The appeals court's decision, however, still made an essential point about the need to answer the threshold question of emancipation, regardless of the time and cost for all the involved parties. For more information on New Jersey's emancipation laws, please speak with the attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C.