Appellate court overturns college tuition-payment order

CAMDEN, N.J. — A divorced couple cannot be forced to pay college tuition for their estranged daughter, a state appellate court ruled.

Caitlyn Ricci has argued that her parents should pay portions of the costs she incurred while attending the former Gloucester County College and later, Temple University, where she enrolled without her parents’ blessings.

Two lower court judges ordered her parents to pay some costs. But the appellate court rejected those rulings, finding Thursday that detailed hearings must first be held to determine whether Caitlyn was considered legally emancipated after she moved in with her paternal grandparents.

Once that determination is made, a judge must then rule on the parents’ responsibility to pay for college costs.

The court fight began after the parents obtained a March 2013 consent order emancipating their then 21-year-old daughter. State law mandates that parents can only be ordered to contribute to the college costs of children who are not emancipated.

In its decision, the appellate court wrote that “a parent cannot be viewed as a ‘wallet’ and deprived of involvement of college decision making process.”

A lawyer for Ricci’s mother says the family has reconciled while the appeal was making its way through the legal system. But further details were not disclosed.