12/11/2014 03:44 pm ET Updated Dec 11, 2014

Lawsuit Shines Spotlight On Whether Parents Should Be Forced To Pay For College

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Do parents have a legal obligation to pay for their children to go to college? It's a question being played out in a New Jersey Family Courtroom where Caitlyn Ricci, 21, has demanded that her divorced parents pay her tuition to Temple University in Philadelphia.

A N.J. Family Court judge has ruled that Caitlyn Ricci's parents, Michael Ricci and Maura McGarvey, are on the hook for $16,000 of their estranged daughter’s $26,000 annual college tab. Caitlyn Ricci's share of her college expenses were set at $9,250, which includes her financial aid award. Her dad's share of the balance is 60 percent; her mom's share is 40 percent. McGarvey has set up a GoFundMe site to help finance her appeal of the decision. As of this time, she's raised $2,350 of the $20,000 she hopes to generate.

In an interview with Yahoo Parenting today, Michael Ricci described how "disappointed" he was with the New Jersey Family Court's decision. Caitlyn Ricci was kicked out of a Disney internship for underage drinking, said her dad, and moved in with her grandparents after her parents "set boundaries" that "included chores, a curfew and summer classes." Michael Ricci blames the grandparents for supporting Caitlyn Ricci's lawsuit and says "every day I wake up and miss my daughter. I miss talking to her, seeing her, asking her about her day, and being involved in her life." He said he learned his daughter was attending Temple University in Philadelphia from reading it on Twitter.

Caitlyn Ricci's attorney, Andrew Rochester, of the Cherry Hill, N.J. law firm Morgenstern & Rochester, told The Huffington Post that Michael Ricci texted his daughter a link to the online story today, although he was unsure if she read it. "But he made sure she saw it," Rochester said.

Rochester noted that this case isn't unique. Last year, another New Jersey college student Rachel Canning, 18, moved out of her family’s home and sued her parents for tuition to attend Western New England University in Massachusetts. She later reconciled with her parents and dropped the lawsuit.

Is reconciliation possible in the Ricci case? "I would hope so," Rochester told The Huffington Post, "Caitlyn really wants her family back." Rochester predicted a greater chance of reconciliation with her mother than her father. "The dad clearly has some serious anger issues toward Caitlyn and his own parents," said Rochester. The lawyer said Michael Ricci's relationship with his parents is "a really major driving force" in the case.

That would seem to bear out what Michael Ricci said in his interview with Yahoo. "While I absolutely place blame on Caitlyn for this, the majority of it lies with her grandparents, who have fostered and even financed this debacle while she lives at their house. What kind of people encourage their granddaughter to sue her own parents…their son? . . . My ex and I want to help our daughter, we want her to be successful in life, but we would also like to have some influence in her life."

The Huffington Post has been unable to reach Michael Ricci for comment.

People who are following this story have tended to blame Caitlyn Ricci exclusively. When we asked Huff/Post50 Facebook fans about the Ricci case and whether parents are obligated to provide a college education for their children, the responses were a resounding "no." Here's what else they had to say:

"She needs to get a job," said Brenda Watts. Darci Joy noted that she joined the Army to pay for education, and Caitlyn should too.

Susan Thomas Wommack said "As far as I know, once they are 18 they are considered an adult, (lol) and parents are no longer required to support them. Of course most do, but by law they don't have to." Lidia Czernenko agreed. "The parents' obligation was to provide food, clothes, a roof over her head and to be able to attend a public school for her basic education from birth until she turned 18. Once 18, she gets a job and provides her education herself. Kids nowadays think their parents owe them everything and anything they want! Grow Up!"

Cheryl G. Roark Irrizary said, "My parents never paid for my college classes. I was on my own. If I pay for my son's college then does he pay for my healthcare and retirement?"

Alyson Long, though, thought "There is a lot more to this case than that. For a daughter and his own mother to turn against this guy, something is going on."

Cheryl White Krauspe noted that "The higher education financial aid formula system EXPECTS parental contribution. Of course, when you make the decision to have children, financial support of those children is a reasonable expectation."

And then's there was Mike Meagher's solution: "Don't have kids; problem solved."



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