Spoiled brat or neglected child? A US court must decide as Rachel Canning's lawsuit to force her estranged parents to support her continues

The case appears to be a referendum on two rival approaches to parenting

Los Angeles

Given the combustible temperament of teenagers and the litigious culture of the United States, perhaps it should be less surprising when American children take legal action against their parents. But that hasn't stopped the case of 18-year-old Rachel Canning, a New Jersey high-school student suing her parents for child support, from becoming a sensation.

Last week, the cheerleader lost the first round of her lawsuit when a judge denied her demand that her estranged parents pay $650 (£390) in weekly child support. She has also asked for them to pay her legal costs, the remainder of the fees for her private high school, and to give her access to a fund set aside for her college tuition.

To her supporters, Miss Canning is a victim of mental abuse; to her opponents, she is a spoiled brat. Judge Peter Bogaard warned that the lawsuit could lead down a "slippery slope" were it to prove successful. He asked: "Are we going to open the gates for 12-year-olds to sue for an Xbox? For 13-year-olds to sue for an iPhone?"

Miss Canning claims her parents threw her out in November, shortly after she turned 18, because they didn't approve of her boyfriend. The Cannings, who also have two other daughters, say that Rachel left home of her own volition because she refused to abide by their reasonable household rules. Judge Bogaard sensibly recommended some family counselling.

Rachel Canning with friends in court Rachel Canning with friends in court In fact, the case appears to be a referendum on two rival approaches to parenting. John Inglesino, the wealthy lawyer who is both funding Miss Canning's case and representing her in court, is also the father of her closest friend. Since leaving her parents' home, Miss Canning has been staying with Mr Inglesino and his family.

In court documents, her father, retired police chief Sean Canning, wrote that the Inglesino household was "more lenient" than the Canning household. His daughter, he claimed: "Would often tell us how the Inglesino parents would allow alcoholic parties to be held at their house. Rachel was angry because we would not host an alcoholic party. Rachel's first time drinking alcohol was at the Inglesino house, in March of 2011, and on other occasions including their daughter's 15th birthday where they have freely provided alcohol."

"We love our child and miss her," Mr Canning told New Jersey newspaper the Daily Record before the hearing. "We're not draconian and now we're getting hauled into court. She's demanding that we pay her bills but she doesn't want to live at home and she's saying: 'I don't want to live under your rules.'"

Family at war: Elizabeth and Sean Canning cry during the hearing Family at war: Elizabeth and Sean Canning cry during the hearing On Friday, the teenager came under fire for a Facebook post that some media outlets claimed she had written. Mr Inglesino, however, insisted the page was a "hoax", and had nothing to do with his client. The author of the post, on an account called Education For Rachel, framed the case as a conflict between the Baby Boomer generation and their offspring. "Suburban baby boomer types are the spoiled lot," the author wrote. "We have been stunned by the financial greed of modern parents who are more concerned with retiring into some fantasy world rather than provide for their children's college and young adult years."

Perhaps the most famous case of legal action taken by a child against his parents was in 1992, when Gregory Kingsley, 12, legally divorced his mother, whom a court ruled was unfit to raise him. He changed his name to Shawn Russ and joined the family of his adopted parents George and Lizabeth Russ. In 2012, he revealed in a rare interview that his teens had been troubled, and that he regretted never reconciling with his mother, Rachel, who died in 2006.

In a sense, Canning seeks the opposite of Kingsley. She will return to court next month to seek a ruling to say she is non-emancipated from her parents, and they therefore remain obligated to fund her further education. Yet her actions could have a similarly divisive long-term effect on her family. And, like Kingsley, she too may come to have regrets.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
A poster by Durham Constabulary
news
Arts and Entertainment
books New York Times slammed over summer reading list
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine