"Spoiled" NJ teen sues parents : Is there more to the story?

"Spoiled" NJ teen sues parents : Is there more to the story?

No doubt you've heard about the "spoiled" and "bratty" New Jersey teen, Rachel Canning, who is suing her parents in order to force them to pay for her education.

Rachel says she was kicked out. Her parents say she moved out all on her own.

She says they were inappropriate and abusive. They say that she has drinking, theft, and behavioral problems--which she says is due to their abuse.

She says they won't let her back home or have access to her college fund. They say that she's welcome to come back and get the college fund as long as she does her chores, observes curfew, and otherwise observes the rules of the house.

Who's right? I honestly don't know. I know nothing about the family.

If you're looking for an opinionated screed against one party or the other, then stop reading here, do not pass the comment section, and look at something else.

Instead of an opinion, I want people to take a step back before calling Rachel names. I will also be using her poor decisions as examples of what not to do when trying to break free.

Consider that there is probable dysfunction going on at home, and I'm not talking about the "ha ha, my family is quirky" dysfunction. I'm talking about a serious breakdown in communication and trust. There may even be abuse, but at the very least it is dysfunctional.

First of all, take the parents' "if you want to live in my house, you have to live by my rules" speech that they gave her. That is a reasonable boundary put down by her parents, IF the rules are reasonable.  They seem to be in her case--chores, curfew, respect.

But if her parents were like my dad--then the boundary is more like an ultimatum. My dad's house rules were often changing depending on his moods, and often he jumped off the deep end about something minor, raging at or making fun of us if we slipped up or missed a crumb (not exaggerating). Were her parents like that? It's not immediately obvious to the public whether that was the case, but if it was, then I can see how Rachel perceived that speech as an ultimatum or a forceful way of making her move out.

Secondly--the fact that Rachel is staying at a friend's house AND that her friend's attorney dad is footing Rachel's legal bills suggests that there is more to the story. I can see why they'd provide shelter for Rachel in the meanwhile--but footing the bill is above and beyond typical housing and food assistance. Perhaps the attorney dad even suggested a legal approach to solving the financial problem because that's all they can reasonably convince the courts of because the possible abuse was just below actionable levels.

On the other hand, it is also entirely possible that Rachel is lying or exaggerating about the abuse in order to get shelter and sympathy, if her parents are correct about her behavior problems.

Now, let's assume that Rachel is right. Maybe there is some abuse going on at home that she absolutely had to get away from when she turned 18. She still made some CRAPPY choices.

1) She didn't get her ducks in a row before she left. She wasn't in any life-threatening danger, so she had some time to try to get a part time job (or two), and save up for her own living expenses. But she moved out right as she turned 18, and there is no mention of her employment status (so I assume she's unemployed).

2) If she wanted to break free, she should have really broken free instead of trying to force her parents to NOT emancipate her. She should have actually tried to get the emancipation legal, then she wouldn't have to worry about getting her parents' financial information for college financial aid, and she'd qualify for WAY more aid from the feds and from the colleges.

3) Pick an college that has the right blend of academics, financial aid, and affordability. State schools are often quite decent for the price, and makes the federal assistance go a lot farther.

4) She should have remained respectful and not left that vulgar voice message for her mom. Let their own actions doom them, and don't stoop to their level (or lower).

Wendy of In the Loop also has some excellent advice for Rachel, echoing a lot of points above.

But remember--not everything makes the news, so consider all possibilities before calling Rachel names.

What a crappy story all around.

Update: An astute reader points out that she can't actually file for emancipation because she's 18 and an adult. Her current lawsuit is to establish that she IS in fact estranged from her parents in order to qualify for a dependency override to get financial aid.

After doing some research, I think this reader's point seems entirely accurate. Rachel's lawsuit is probably not after support from her parents, but rather a careful chess-play in order to prove that they are not supporting her. It's only with this proof that she can be considered an independent student.

Fortunately she had an adult with the financial ability to help her with the legal bills. The vast majority of us in the same situation don't.

Filed under: Abuse

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