You have probably heard about the 18-year old New Jersey senior who is suing her parents for financial support and to pay her college education.  Rachel Canning, who is living with the family of her best friend, has declared in court that she is not emancipated and is still financially dependent upon her parents.  The honor student and cheerleader left her home because of what she claims is abuse by her parents. Her parents contend that Canning refused to follow reasonable household rules.  The judge recently denied Canning’s request for allowance but delayed ruling on whether the parents could be compelled to pay college expenses. 

What should happen?  And what would happen if this case arose in Illinois?

In Illinois, the law presents an interesting disparity between children of divorcing/divorced parents and children of parents with an intact marriage.  A child whose parents are married cannot force parents to pay for college.  If parents refuse or cannot pay, no court will compel them.  On the other hand, if the children’s parents are divorcing or are divorced, one parent may go to court to order the other parent to contribute to such expenses.  The court will take into account both parents’ ability to pay, the child’s preferences, and the child’s ability to obtain aid.  Normally, both parents are required to make some contribution.  Courts will generally not consider a parent’s argument that children should put themselves through school or that the child is not following house rules and is therefore not entitled to any further financial support.

Why should the rules apply differently to children depending on the status of their parents’ marriage?  While there are some arguments that children of divorce should receive more help because their parents’ situation puts them at a disadvantage, I do not think there should be a difference.  All children should be treated equally by the court system. 

But I still haven’t made up my mind as to whether parents should be legally compelled to support adult children in pursuing college education when the children are disrespectful, non-communicative or otherwise hostile.  There is something wrong about allowing children to disrespect their parents and still demand thousands of dollars in tuition money.  On the other hand, there are times when the parents have earned such disrespect by way of abuse, neglect or bad parenting.  We also have to consider that years ago, students were able to put themselves though college with some financial aid, loans and summer jobs.  Now that is not always the case with the drastically increased cost of college.

I suppose we should always err on the side of getting children educated.  And even if the children do not immediately appreciate that support, hopefully they will educate themselves enough to realize that their parents’ payment of a college education was a huge gift—even if it was court-ordered.