Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The scary erosion of parents' rights...

Yesterday, I read a news article that really got my blood pumping.  An 18 year old woman in Morristown, New Jersey is suing her parents.  She hopes to compel them to pay for her Catholic high school tuition, immediate financial support for her living and transportation expenses, and college tuition.  This young woman's name is Rachel Canning and she's a pretty cheerleader and lacrosse player who hopes to be a biomedical engineer one day.  She's a good student who has been accepted to several pricey private colleges.  Her parents have also saved money for her to attend college.

Unfortunately, last November, when Rachel turned 18, she voluntarily decided to move out of her parents' home when they asked her to abide by their house rules.  She has been living with her best friend, whose father, John Inglesino, is a lawyer.  Mr. Inglesino is now bankrolling a lawsuit against Rachel Canning's parents, who told their daughter she was not welcome in their home if she wasn't willing to abide by a curfew, do some chores around the house, be respectful, return "borrowed" items to her two sisters, and reconsider or end a relationship with a boyfriend her parents felt was a bad influence.  Canning's parents neglected to pay a recent tuition bill for Canning's private school and they've kept a car she was driving because they paid for it.  

When Rachel Canning turned 18, she became a legal adult.  In New Jersey, turning 18 does not automatically mean a child is emancipated.  Because she was still in high school, her parents did have a legal obligation to provide for her as long as she still lived with them.  However, trying to force them to pay for her college, give her a car, or allow her to live in someone else's house while paying her "support" is utterly ludicrous.  Moreover, because she's 18, they can't force her to live in their house.  She voluntarily moved out after age 18; therefore, she pretty much declared herself an adult.  It's not like her parents could have called the cops and have her hauled back home.

I am also disturbed by the entitled attitude this young lady has.  Granted, she's clearly smart, pretty, accomplished, and ready to attend college.  But college is not a right.  A lot of capable young people her age never go to college because they don't have the means.  If she has declared herself an adult because she doesn't want to live by her parents' rules, she should be responsible for figuring out how to pay for college or otherwise launch herself.  There are things she can do to raise the money to go to school if she wants to.  She could get loans, apply for more scholarships, or even join the military.  But she made a choice.  It was a dumb choice, in my opinion, since she moved out of her parents' house with just a few months to go before she was college bound.  As an adult, though, she has to own that choice and live with the consequences.

I do have a little empathy for Rachel Canning.  I remember 18.  When you're 18, a few months can seem like an eternity.  But part of being an adult is understanding that sometimes you get stuck in situations you don't want to be in.  As you age, you realize that a few months is really not long at all.  You learn to be patient and find constructive ways to deal with your problems.  What Rachel has done is destructive, especially if she ever has any future hopes of getting along with her family.  If she's not a total sociopath, there may come a day later in her life when she's very ashamed of suing her parents.  It looks like they did a decent job providing for her up until now.  In fact, from the looks of it, she's downright spoiled.  Maybe that's a poor reflection on her parents, but the way to fix that isn't to make them pay for her schooling beyond high school.

Another reason this case disturbs me is that if Canning prevails, it will set a nasty precedent for parents.  Rachel Canning's parents are presumably still married.  At this point, parents are not legally obligated to pay for college, unless they happen to be divorced.  In that case, a lot of parents do wind up being compelled to pay for college, whether or not their adult kid actually belongs there.  It's not really fair, since we don't force married parents to pay for their kids to attend college, but in many states, it is permissible.  If Rachel Canning wins this case, married parents may at some point find themselves on the hook to pay for their kids' schooling into their 20s.  The journey from childhood to adulthood will be further prolonged.  Young people already have a tough enough springing from the nest without that extra layer of legal protection that may delay their parents in saving money for retirement.  Since no one forces adult children to support their parents in their golden years, this seems like it could set a dangerous precedent that could be bad for our aging population.

While I did get a lot of help from my parents when I was in college, it was made very clear to me that their help was not a given.  Remembering how I was at 18-- basically a good "kid", but cocky-- it's probably a good thing my parents were able to hold that assistance over my head.   I am strongly opposed to forcing parents to pay for able-bodied adult children.  I don't think it serves anyone to force kids to be kids longer.  It's unnatural.  There's supposed to be a hearing today about this case.  It will be interesting to see what happens.  I think it's fair for the parents to pay for the high school, since they are probably responsible for enrolling her there instead of public school.  But for college, she should be on her own unless she and her parents can come to an agreement.

ETA: Rachel Canning's demands for tuition and child support have been denied.  Another hearing is scheduled to determine whether or not she will get her college money.

Moving on…

I've been casually following the case of Justina Pelletier, the fifteen year old Connecticut teen whose parents took her to Boston Children's Hospital for treatment of mitochondrial disease.  The illness was diagnosed by doctors at Tufts Medical Center in 2011, but doctors at Boston Children's Hospital disagreed with the diagnosis, believing that her problems were psychiatric.  They determined that treating Justina for the mitochondrial disease constituted medical child abuse.

Justina Pelletier then spent the next year at the hospital with the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families as her custodian.  Her parents got supervised visitation.  Yesterday, a judge declared that Justina's care should be transferred back to Tufts Medical Center.  Her parents are reportedly pleased with that decision, though Massachusetts DCF is still trying to maintain control of her care or get the case transferred to Connecticut Department of Children and Families.  The reason the case is being transferred, by the way, is because Justina Pelletier's physical condition is declining and it's looking like she really does have mitochondrial disease.

I realize that I haven't been following this case very closely, but it does seem crazy to me that this girl and her parents are in this situation.  Moreover, when I think about how much it cost to incarcerate Justina in the hospital for a year, it just boggles my mind.  Her parents sought appropriate medical care for a legitimate problem and have had to spend the year fighting for their rights, rather than supporting their child as she suffers with a serious illness.

This is not the first time doctors and CPS have stepped in when a child has a medical issue.  I can think of several folks off the top of my head who have had to deal with doctors and government officials who want to step in when parents make decisions they don't agree with.  While I'm not sure I'd want to completely strip medical people of their power to intervene, I do think that sometimes they are overzealous and end up tearing apart families and sending them to financial ruin.  It's hard enough paying medical bills without adding legal bills on top of it.  I don't like nannyism and I think parents should maintain some control over raising their kids and making decisions on their behalf.

In any case, I don't know all the particulars about the Pelletiers' case, but I do hope this gets resolved soon in a way that benefits their daughter most.  And from what I've read, it would be best if CPS let this family be.


  1. I agree totally about the Rachel Canning thing. it's a dangerous precedent.She cannot have it both ways. I could pay for my own education, although it would wipe out my savings and part of a settlement fund I can't tap into until i'm 30 or finish medical, law, or other grad school unless tapping into it is necessary for my education), whichever comes first. I've chosen to essentially follow my parents' rules (they're not spies, but there's a limit to how far I can push anything and still remain in their good graces). It's their money and they get to decide what are the terms for their spending it. I'm on scholarship,which takes care of books and tuition, but my parents are taking care of living expenses and my car.

    The Pelletiers' case makes me so sad. We've all seen Munchausen by Proxy, and this clearly is NOT a case of it.

    1. Most people I've seen writing about this have overwhelmingly been on the parents' side. Even if it does turn out that they were just as much to blame for this, giving in to Rachel's demands sets a precedent to allow other entitled brats to sue their parents. And that would make actually being a good parent more difficult than it already is.

      As for the Pelletiers, I really think the people who made this decision that has fucked up her life for a year ought to be held responsible for this colossal mistake. Unfortunately, since government agencies are involved, they're probably screwed.


Comments on older posts will be moderated until further notice.