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Sued for tuition, parents fight back

Caitlyn Ricci’s parents are appealing a court order to pay their daughter’s $16,000 tuition.

With the help of a GoFundMe site, senior Temple student Caitlyn Ricci’s divorced parents are fighting back a court order to pay their daughter’s $16,000 out-of-state tuition for the 2013-14 academic year.

This domestic legal battle began after Ricci moved out of her mother’s New Jersey home into her grandparents’ in February 2013. Earlier in December, a Superior Court judge ordered her parents, Michael Ricci and Maura McGarvey, to pay for their daughter’s $906 tuition to Rowan College at Gloucester County, according to the Inquirer.

Only McGarvey has paid her half of the $906, Caitlyn Ricci’s lawyer, Andrew Rochester, said. The appeal process, which could take over a year, will buy McGarvey and Michael Ricci some time before any further court action is taken to have them pay the $16,000.

“They seem to believe they’re above the law,” Rochester said of Caitlyn Ricci’s parents.

New Jersey laws state that determining a “parental obligation” to a pay a child’s college tuition requires consideration of “relevant case law and statutes.” Rochester said cases like this are not unusual.

During the midst of the court hearings, McGarvey set up a WordPress site titled “The Age of Entitlement” detailing her experience with her daughter. After Caitlyn Ricci was kicked out of the Disney College Program for underage drinking, her parents imposed a set of rules that included household chores, a full-time job and summer classes, according to McGarvey’s blog. Under the agreement, Rochester said her parents would help pay for college.

“She followed her parent’s chores. She got a full time job, took summer classes,” Rochester said. “They still said, ‘We’re still not paying for her college.’”

Rochester also said that McGarvey and Michael Ricci’s combined household income is over $270,000.

“Although Caitlyn may think she won, no one won this court case,” McGarvey wrote in her blog. “This is a family that has already lost so much.  I have lost my child. We lost the moment Caitlyn’s grandparents helped her hire a lawyer to sue her parents, instead of telling her to come home and work it out.”

Neither Caitlyn Ricci nor McGarvey responded to multiple requests for comment.

In one month, the “McGarvey Appeal Fund” on GoFundMe.com has already raised $3,700 of its $20,000 goal.

Caitlyn Ricci’s parents are also working with Republican New Jersey Assemblyman Christopher Brown on new legislation to assure other New Jersey parents do not have to undergo similar experiences in court.

“This is a disturbing intrusion of government into private lives,” Brown said in a press release. “Removing the parents from the decision-making process sets a bad precedent. Children can unilaterally decide where they want to go to college, and the courts will force the parents to pay the bills. How can you defend that?”

However, Rochester says that Caitlyn Ricci’s case will not set a precedent for future students to bring their parents to court to pay for mounting tuition, because the parental obligation to support a child is already the law in New Jersey.

“For whatever reason, people think this is some new, novel and unusual – it’s not,” he said. “What’s most distressing in this case – looking at it as a father, as a person – looking at how willing they are to destroy Caitlyn.”

Patricia Madej can be reached at patricia.madej@temple.edu, at 215.204.6737 or on Twitter @PatriciaMadej

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