By GEOFF MULVIHILL
HADDONFIELD, N.J. — A judge has been clear that Caitlyn Ricci’s parents must pay her tuition to Temple University, even though the divorced couple agrees that they do not want to foot the bill to an out-of-state college they had no role in selecting for their 21-year-old daughter. Now two New Jersey lawmakers are weighing new legislation in reaction to a case that has sparked outrage over the role of courts and the rights of divorced parents.
Maura McGarvey and Michael Ricci said they have met with lawmakers in the last few weeks and expect a bill to be introduced soon that would bar courts handling college-funding decisions differently for divorced and married parents.
Assemblyman Paul Moriarty, a Democrat from Washington Township, said he’s working with Assemblyman Christopher Brown, a Republican from Evesham, on approaches to legislation. “If the law treats divorced parents differently than married parents, that’s unfair,” Moriarty said.
Brown, who is taking the lead on the issue, was traveling last week and not available to comment.
The family saga goes back years, but it’s become a flashpoint only in the last several weeks.
Judges have ruled that the parents must pay for their daughter’s classes last year at community college and $16,000 toward her tuition this year at Temple in Philadelphia.
Caitlyn Ricci’s lawyer, Andrew Rochester, said he’s had similar cases before and that there’s more than 40 years of case law in New Jersey to support the proposition that divorced parents must pay for their children’s post-secondary education. Most states, lawyers agree, do not have such a precedent.
McGarvey and Michael Ricci have told their story repeatedly in recent weeks to reporters. They have written about it _ him on a piece posted on Yahoo’s parenting website, her on an explanation on Gofundme, a website she is using to raise money for a legal appeal.
They told The Associated Press in separate interviews that they were inspired to publicize their story by a saga earlier this year in northern New Jersey where an 18-year-old tried to force her parents, who were married, to pay for her private high school tuition. A judge denied the request and the daughter in that case later reconciled with her parents.
“We want to appeal just because we feel that the law is being used in the wrong way in our case,” McGarvey said. “No judge would come into a married household and say, `You have to pay for that child to go to whatever college she wants.”’
Caitlyn Ricci was born when her parents were still in college. They divorced when she was a toddler, and both have remarried and have younger children.
Her father, a sales manager and high school basketball coach who lives in Haddon Heights, and her mother, a middle school teacher who lives in Washington Township, said their divorce settlement did not include a provision for how her college education would be funded. But they said they have always worked together when it comes to parenting her.
When she graduated from high school in 2012, her parents said, the agreed she would continue to live with her mother and go to Gloucester County College rather than accept admission to Montclair State University 100 miles to the north.
After a semester there, she went to Florida for an internship at Disney World intended as a test, her parents said, of whether she was ready to live away from home. Her parents say she was sent home for underage drinking.
Not long after returning home, she moved in with her paternal grandparents. Her parents say they have not heard from her since.
Rochester said that the behavior Caitlyn Ricci’s parents have complained about was years ago and that she’s now a getting good grades while working 30 hours a week.