Judge Recommends Family Counseling in Case of Teen Suing Parents, Sets Trial Date

A judge has set a trial date for a New Jersey honor student who is suing her parents for financial support after she says they kicked her out of the house when she turned 18, but recommends family counseling in the meantime.

Rachel Canning says she moved out of her parents' home Oct. 29 after she turned 18, and went to live with her friend; the friend's father, former Morris County Freeholder John Inglesino, is funding the lawsuit.
The judge in Morristown on Tuesday denied her immediate requests for financial support, and recommended family counseling pending the trial.
"They're always going to be your parents," the judge told Canning Tuesday. "That may not be something you're ecstatic about, but ... sometimes children become adults, they change their feelings on their understandings on what it takes to be a parent."

A cheerleader and lacrosse player who hopes to become a biomedical engineer, Canning had sought immediate financial support and wants to force her parents to pay for her college education. She also wants a judge to declare she's non-emancipated and dependent as a student on her parents for support, and to order them to pay her therapy bills and child support to the family she's been living with.
In court filings, Canning's parents, retired Lincoln Park police Chief Sean Canning and his wife Elizabeth, said their daughter voluntarily left home because she didn't want to abide by reasonable household rules, such as being respectful, keeping a curfew, doing a few chores and ending a relationship with a boyfriend her parents say is a bad influence. They say that shortly before she turned 18, she told her parents that she would be an adult and could do whatever she wanted.
She said her parents are abusive, contributed to an eating disorder she developed and pushed her to get a basketball scholarship. They say they were supportive, helped her through the eating disorder and paid for her to go to a private school where she would not get as much playing time in basketball as she would have at a public school.
They also say she lied in her court filing and to child welfare workers who are involved in the case.
In the complaint, Canning alleges her parents jointly decided to cut her off "both financially and emotionally," refusing to pay for her tuition at Morris Catholic High School, where she is a full-time student. Canning claims they wanted to punish her by depriving her of an education because she told school authorities about what she described as "severe and excessive verbal and physical abuse."

Canning outlines a litany of alleged abuse that involved demeaning comments about her weight, as well as inappropriate encounters with her father. She says her mother called her "fat" and "porky" as she was growing up, and she developed an eating disorder her sophomore year of high school. By her junior year, she says she weighed 92 pounds and was no longer healthy enough to play basketball, which she says angered her father.

Canning alleges her father was "inappropriately affectionate" toward her for much of her life, and claims he fed her so much alcohol that she blacked out on occasion. Once, she alleges, he woke her up in the middle of the night to drink and play beer pong. Frequently, she says, he told her that he didn't view her as a daughter, but as "more than that."

Shortly before she moved out of her parents' house, Canning says she was wrongly accused of being drunk at a homecoming dance and had to call her parents. She says her mother and father, who were in Las Vegas at the time, "began screaming obscenities" and the teacher in the room with her heard the curses. When Canning complained to the school about the alleged longtime abuse she had endured, the school called child services and her parents, in retaliation, then cut her off and directed her college funds elsewhere.

Rachel Canning says she doesn't think returning home is a viable option, nor does her therapist.

"I am not willingly and voluntarily leaving a reasonable situation at home to make my own decisions," Canning wrote in a statement to the court. "I had to leave to end the abuse. My parents simply will not help me any longer. They want nothing to do with me and refuse to even help me financially outside the home although they certainly have the ability to do so."

The court brief filed by attorney Lauris Rush-Masuret on behalf of Canning's parents says she should move back home if she believes herself "non-emancipated," but her behavior -- cutting school, drinking under age, ignoring curfew -- makes that challenging. 
"Her willful failure to live in concert with her family and their rules and lifestyle, her defiance in seeking to live with her boyfriend's family then her friend's family and her alienation of her parents clearly demonstrates that she refuses to live within their sphere of influence," Rush-Masuret writes.

The brief also claims Canning has no contact with her parents, nor does she consult with them about the college applications she's submitted, her academic progress or her athletics. It says her parents provided a "stable, loving and nurturing environment" and that she wasn't deprived of anything.

It outright dismisses allegations of inappropriate sexual interactions between her and her father, and says that while their daughter's eating disorders were extremely difficult and sad to cope with, both parents tried to help her as best they could -- through therapy, medical treatment and emotional support.

To force them to financially support her would not only be unfair, it would set poor precedent, according to Rush-Masuret.

According to court documents filed by the defense, children's services authorities investigated Rachel Canning's claims of abuse after she complained to her high school and found no evidence of abuse.
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