December 7, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
Not long ago I wrote about a Massachusetts woman who, when it came to her non-custodial father paying child support, was popping into adulthood and back into childhood more or less willy-nilly. In the Bay State, if you’re married or serving in the armed services, you’re an adult and so whatever child support obligation your non-custodial parent has to you comes to an end. He doesn’t have to support a child who’s no longer a child.
The problem then was that the woman got married at the age of 18 and that ended her father’s obligation to her and to her mother. But then she got divorced rendering her once again a child. As I pointed out, that could go on indefinitely. She could join the Army and become and adult, and could fail basic training and be once again a child.
Then there’s the case in Spain of the woman whose father a judge ordered to continue paying for her college education. She was 29, had been attending college, like Bluto, for seven years. She anticipated another three years in school, so the judge ordered the dad to pay until she reaches 32.
Do you think that takes the concept of a “child” a bit far? When, after all, can we rightly call a person who’s in no way mentally or physically disabled an adult? When will the state make an end to the seemingly never-ending obligations of parents to “children?” I say that age comes long before 29.
But here in the United States, the road is paved for us to reach exactly the place the Spanish judge got to. A judge in New Jersey has just ordered a divorced couple to pay Temple University in Philadelphia $16,000 as an installment on their daughter’s college education. Read about it here (Slate, 12/4/14).
If previous articles are any indication, Caitlyn Ricci is quite the little brat. Her parents divorced many years ago with her mother of course having primary custody of Caitlyn. When she was 16, she either left or was asked to leave her mother’s house and apparently there was no place for her in Daddy’s inn. So she went to her paternal grandparents who not only took her in but have been funding her lawsuit against both her parents ever since.
According to that lawsuit, her parents, Michael Ricci and Maura McGarvey, have a legal obligation to pay for Caitlyn’s college education and the judge agreed. She also requested a new car, but the judge denied that one.
Obvious questions arise. “Where did the judge get the idea that parents have an obligation to pay for their adult offspring’s college education?” “When does that obligation end?” “If Caitlyn wants to attend graduate school, do they have to pay for that as well?” “What about medical school?” “What if they can’t afford it?” “Do they have to pay only for tuition?” “What about room and board, clothes, lab fees, school supplies, computers, vacations, parties, party clothes, etc.?”
But of course the biggest question is “Married couples don’t have this obligation, so why do divorced or unmarried couples?” According to the article linked to, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania answered that question by saying that it’s unconstitutional to differentiate in that way between married and unmarried or divorced couples. Either all parents have the obligation to send their kids to college or none of them do. So far, New Jersey seems to disagree.
Other states of course will, in due time, have the opportunity to pass laws on the subject. Most people thought that a parent’s obligation to his/her offspring ended when the child became an adult, i.e. reached the age of 18. If that all-important concept — that when one becomes an adult, one is legally obligated to be responsible for oneself — doesn’t hold, then clearly the sky’s the limit. If the judge in New Jersey ruled on the basis of what’s best for the “child,” we can all imagine what else would be good for “children.” Surely “children” of whatever age need a nice place in which to live, high-quality medical care, transportation, food, heating and air-conditioning, leisure activities, etc. If parents need to provide those for an adult aged 18, then why not an adult aged 29 as in Spain. And if 29 isn’t the limit (as it’s not in Spain), what is? Is there any limit? Could a 48-year-old drug addict legally force her parents to take her in, feed her, shelter her, etc.? Should they be required to pay for her need for a good lawyer as well as a good doctor?
Why stop at a college education? Higher education is important of course, but is it more important than good health? A roof over one’s head? Food? If parents can be made to pay to educate an adult, why not all the other requisites of life?
I doubt the judge has an answer for those questions. But the further and still larger question is “Will there ever be an end to the state’s intervention in parental decision-making?” I see none. We already have the state reversing parents’ decisions on medical care, psychiatric care and discipline for bad behavior. Now we see that two parents’ refusal to pay for their daughter’s college education is yet another area in which Big Brother knows best.
There is a simple way past this latest absurdity. When children become adults they cease to be children. At that time, their parents’ legal obligations to them end. Of course the vast majority of kids don’t have quite the assumption of entitlement that Caitlyn Ricci apparently does. And the great majority of parents with the funds to do so send their kids to college. That will go on regardless of what judges decide are parental obligations. But the issue is who decides, Dad and Mom or a judge.
It’s long past time that we returned parenting to parents. The exception is when parents have proven themselves to be unfit to do the job. Michael Ricci and his ex are not in that category. As such, the state should leave them alone.
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