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Families lose with college tuition lawsuits

People sit outside the Supreme Court October 8, 2013 in Washington, DC
People sit outside the Supreme Court October 8, 2013 in Washington, DC
Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

A lawsuit filed by a teen against her parents to force them to pay for her college tuition may soon be settled according to CNN on Wednesday but if not, a judge will decide this issue. Either way, the family has already lost.

This case

An 18-year-old high school senior left her New Jersey home. Parents and student disagreed as to the circumstances but both agreed there was plenty of family disharmony. “The lawsuit asked that her parents pay the remaining tuition for her last semester at her private high school, pay her current living and transportation expenses, commit to paying her college tuition and reimburse her friend's parents for legal fees,” CNN reported.

Last week the judge denied the teen’s request that her parents pay for her private high school tuition and current living expenses with a friend’s family. The court set a date in April to address the remaining issues.

The judge may never get a chance to rule if the case is settled. On Wednesday, the teenager returned home to her family.

Other cases

Although parents are expected to support their children and see to their education, the responsibility after secondary school varies by state law.

Parents may decide to assume a further obligation for higher education on their own. In cases of divorce, this may become part of the divorce settlement. Parents reneging may be forced by court order to pay for their child’s college tuition.

“A New Jersey father has been ordered to pay half the cost of his daughter's law school education at Cornell Law School, with his portion to be about $112,500, a New Jersey appeals court has ruled,” according to Monday's article in FindLaw.

Family loss

If a judge has to decide parental responsibility for college tuition, the family loses before the verdict. The financial loss is measured in attorney fees, wasted time and missed paychecks that could have been better spent. The emotional toll is stress from family disagreements, embarrassment from public airing of private arguments, and a passed down legacy of extreme family disharmony.

It is up to parents to make communication a constant family priority. Respect for opinion differences and the ability to compromise are skills that may be modeled and taught.

Parents may also have frank discussions with their college-bound children about money and college costs. A federal website helps families discover their eligibility for financial aid, each college website helps families find the net price at that school and other websites have scholarship searches for self-help to reduce college costs. Students should also know what financial help to expect from their parents.

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