By Christopher Maag and Stefanie Dazio, The Record (Hackensack, N.J.)
HACKENSACK, N.J. — The 18-year-old who sued her parents for financial support and college tuition returned home Tuesday night, a lawyer for her parents announced Wednesday, possibly ending a court case that attracted international media attention.
The court case remains unsettled, said Angelo Sarno, the attorney. But Rachel Canning and her parents have begun to resolve their issues in private, which should have happened long before the dispute escalated into a highly publicized lawsuit, Sarno said.
“This is the right result to something that got out of hand,” said Sarno, speaking at a news conference outside his office in Roseland, N.J. “This is a matter that should have been brought into some counselor’s office, not a court.”
The dispute began in 2013 when Canning’s parents, Sean and Elizabeth, grew concerned about what they believed to be Rachel’s increasing use of alcohol, excessive partying and cutting classes at Morris Catholic High School. They blamed these problems partly on her boyfriend, whom they believed to be a bad influence.
And so they delivered an ultimatum: Break up with the boyfriend, or move out when you turn 18. Rachel kept dating the boy, moved out of the house, and sued her parents for immediate financial support of $654 a week, plus her college tuition.
The decision to sue attracted worldwide attention from media outlets and social media users, many of whom labeled Rachel as a spoiled brat.
In his brief remarks Wednesday, Sarno refused to disclose whether Rachel and her parents had agreed to a compromise, although he did say the reunion “is not contingent on any financial and/or other considerations.”
Rachel and her family have been hounded by journalists, Sarno said, some of whom have walked unannounced into his office and confronted Canning family members at gas stations, he said. He pleaded with media outlets to give the family space.
“They are not athletes. They are not actors,” Sarno said. “They didn’t ask for any of this.”
But someone who claimed to be Rachel Canning blasted her parents’ generation in a Facebook posting as “spoiled” and free-spending, drawing yet more attention to the case on social media.
The case prompted fear among some parents that their teenagers might see the case as a precedent and sue them for financial support. State Judge Peter Bogaard in Morris County Superior Court raised that concern during a hearing earlier this month, asking: “If parents impose a rule that Junior doesn’t like, can Junior move out, and then sue for monetary damages? Can a 12-year-old sue for an Xbox? Can a 16-year-old sue for a 60-inch flat-screen TV? We have to be conscious of the potential precedents here,” Bogaard said.
When asked whether this case might be seen as a model for other teens to sue their parents, Sarno said. “This was an anomoly. Hopefully nobody gets a bright idea and tries to run to court” with similar allegations. “Even this amicable resolution is still not good. This girl will be affected by this for years.”
Photo: Dougtone via Flickr