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May 2014 - Child Support

A couple of years or so ago, my wife, Nancy, and I were driving somewhere, probably from or to water polo practice, with our two younger grandsons. For a while the conversation was typical; we were getting updates on their schooling, their social lives, and the like. Then the older, who is never reticent about practicing his promotional skills, started talking about Facebook.

As I recall, Facebook had an entry age, so to speak, of thirteen, which he was fast approaching, and joining Facebook or, more accurately, not being able to join Facebook, was a matter of life-changing proportions. His parents, one of whom is my son, were against it. The outpouring, which was one-way at that point, then shifted slightly to how his parents were incredibly unreasonable seeing as how all of his friends were on Facebook. Of course they were. Have you ever suggested to one of your children that he not do something, only to be met with all of his friends were doing it and all of their parents allowed it? I thought so. That’s one of the first rejoinders kids learn even if, as far as you knew, they had no friends.

At any rate, Nancy and I have an inalterable policy: we may listen (well, Nancy does) but we never remotely suggest anything that would undermine the parents. It is a door we do not open. Sensing that he was not getting even a lukewarm reception, he took the following tack:

Grandson: “Oompa, you’re a lawyer, right?”

Me: “Yes.”

Grandson: “Could I retain you?”

Me: “Retain?”

Grandson: “Yes, you know, could I hire you?”

Me: “I know what retain means. I didn’t know you did. What for?”

Grandson: “To talk to Dad. He is your son after all, and he would have to do what you say and, if he didn’t, you could sue him.”

I have no memory of what I said at that point, and I suspect Nancy took over before I drove us into a ditch.

My grandson may have been a little ahead of his time, but his idea was, it turns out, not entirely original.

As always, a case in point.

Rachel Canning is eighteen years old and a student at Morris Catholic High School in Morristown, New Jersey. She was not, at least as this was being penned, living at home. According to her parents, she chafed at the “rules” which included being respectful, doing chores, returning “borrowed” items to her two sisters and, I’m thinking this was the bell-ringer, giving up her boyfriend. According to her, she was thrown out. In any event, she was living with her best friend whose father is, you guessed it, an attorney.

Miss Canning did what every red-blooded American high school student living with her girlfriend whose father is a lawyer would do—she sued her parents. She asked that they be required to pay outstanding tuition, her living and transportation expenses, commit an existing college fund to her and, not to be left out, her attorney’s fees, so far pegged at a little over $12,000, and, I’m sure, growing.

The legal question may have come down to whether she is or is not emancipated under New Jersey law which looks at whether the child has “moved beyond the sphere of influence” of her parents and obtained independence on her own; attaining eighteen creates just a rebuttable presumption of emancipation.

She argued “constructive abandonment,” whatever that is, and her parents argue that Miss Canning cannot decide she will no longer be under their sphere of influence and, at the same time, require them to support her. In other words, she can’t be dependent and independent at the same time—a position that certainly has a logical underpinning.

Judge Peter Bogaard, who was no doubt wondering just what it was that he did to deserve this case, denied emergency relief at the order to show cause stage, stating that he needed an evidentiary hearing before he could decide anything more, and noting that more energy has been expended trying to tear up the family than to keep it together (hoping, I’m sure, that somehow his words would speed up settlement before the next hearing, which was also likely to be on camera). Although Miss Canning dismissed her case against her parents, and thereby moved back home, I suspect this is not the last of these cases we will see.

This case has caused me to mentally revisit my grandson’s proposal. While I would not take his case—too close to home and all that—the fact that since the dawning of time no teenager has ever gotten along with his parents tells me there is a bonanza out there waiting to be tapped. And, I know exactly where to advertise:

Facebook.

Richard W. Millar, Jr. is a member of the firm of Millar, Hodges & Bemis in Newport Beach. He can be reached at millar@mhblaw.net.

 
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