Reiterating the opening to my colleague, Padraic F.X. Dugan, Esq.’s blog outlining the history of U.S. Supreme Court decisions regarding the fundamental right to parent one’s child, he wrote: “United States Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote on behalf of the Court in the case of Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57 (2000), that ‘the interest of parents in the care, custody, and control of their children — is perhaps the oldest of the fundamental liberty interests recognized by this Court.’ Justice O’Connor went on to cite other decisions like Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390 (1923), wherein the Court recognized ‘that the ‘liberty’ protected by the Due Process Clause includes the right of parents to ‘establish a home and bring up children’ and ‘to control the education of their own.’ In Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205(1972), the Court noted: ‘The history and culture of Western civilization reflect a strong tradition of parental concern for the nurture and upbringing of their children. This primary role of the parents in the upbringing of their children is now established beyond debate as an enduring American tradition’. Justice O’Connor ultimately held: ‘It cannot now be doubted that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment protects the fundamental right of parents to make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control of their children.”
On February 9, 2017, the New Jersey Appellate Division handed down a decision in Ricci v. Ricci, A-1832-14T1. While not factually identical to the Rachel Canning case discussed by Mr. Dugan referenced above (where a New Jersey student sued her nondivorced parents for contribution towards her college expenses), the Ricci’s are divorced and were sued by their emancipated daughter for payment of college tuition.
The relevant facts are as follows: the Ricci’s daughter, who is now 23 years old, left her mother’s home at the age of 19 to reside with her paternal grandparents. Consequently, the Ricci’s executed a consent order terminating child support. Thereafter, their daughter sought to intervene in the matrimonial matter, seeking to vacate the emancipation order. The trial court entered an Order on October 11, 2013, permitting the daughter to intervene, finding the daughter unemancipated for the purpose of college payment without discussion and required the parents to pay the tuition cost for community college for the 2013-2014 school year, which was less than $2,000.00. However, prior to completing her degree at community college, the Ricci’s daughter transferred to Temple University without discussing the decision with her parents and afterward sought that her parents pay the significantly larger tuition. On October 31, 2014, a new judge, without the benefit of a plenary hearing or review of financial documentation enforced the October 11, 2013 Order and required the Ricci’s to pay their daughter’s outstanding tuition, fees, and the cost of books at Temple University. The Ricci’s sought reconsideration of the October 31, 2014 Order but the judge did not examine whether and to what extent the Ricci’s could and should pay tuition and ordered the parties to pay their daughter’s outstanding tuition at Temple University. The Ricci’s appealed the resulting Order.