In February 2013, Caitlyn Ricci left her mother's home. Whether she was forced out or moved by choice remains in dispute. Maura McGarvey has said she warned her daughter: Leaving home meant Mom and Dad would no longer cover her expenses.
Contact ceased until a few months later. Then McGarvey and her ex-husband learned of the battle that lay ahead.
Their daughter was suing them.
Inside the walls of Superior Court in Camden County, the case quietly proceeded.
Daughter vs. Mom and Dad.
Lawsuits among family members over college tuition aren't that uncommon in New Jersey. Usually, though, it's one parent suing to force another to pay. This case was different.
For Michael Ricci and McGarvey, the hearings were a sort of reunion - a chance to see a child who, they said, had cut them off. For Caitlyn Ricci, who just "wants a future," her attorney said, the hearings were a shot at a decent college education.
It was Oct. 11, 2013, and Judge Thomas J. Shusted handed down what both parties considered a victory. Shusted ordered that Michael Ricci and McGarvey split the costs of their daughter's tuition, fees, and books, so long as she applied for all eligible loans and scholarships.
Her parents insist she did not do so - and they refused to pay.
Caitlyn Ricci was attending Gloucester County College at the time, her attorney, Andrew Rochester, said. It is unclear how much her parents would have owed; both sides have disputed the amount.
Months passed. The calendar turned to 2014. Still no payment.
In March, the nation became fixated on the case of Rachel Canning, a young North Jersey woman who also sued her parents for not paying college tuition.
No one, outside of the families, friends, and attorneys involved, knew of Caitlyn Ricci's case. Not yet.
Within the family, though, anger was boiling.
Caitlyn Ricci had filed the suit with the support of her Camden County grandparents, her father's parents, with whom she had moved in after leaving home. Her father said he believes the grandparents steered her actions.
"I have zero respect for my parents for what they've done and how they've handled the situation," said Michael Ricci, 44, of Haddon Heights, in a phone interview Thursday.
"They're the ones who are responsible for tearing my family apart and tearing my daughter away."
The grandparents did not return a call for comment.
Caitlyn Ricci's parents wanted her to stay in New Jersey for college. Perhaps Rowan. Or maybe Rutgers.
But over the summer, she was accepted into Temple University. Still not on talking terms with his daughter, Michael Ricci found out through Twitter.
"I had no idea that she even applied there," he said.
The court battle was about to get uglier.
On Halloween of this year, a different judge in Camden County - Donald J. Stein - heard the case. This time, Temple tuition was at stake.
Stein, according to Caitlyn Ricci's attorney, ordered Michael Ricci, a senior account manager, and McGarvey, a middle-school English teacher, to pay $16,000 of their daughter's tuition. (Caitlyn Ricci's attorney said that her total tuition is about $26,000 and that she has paid for some of it with financial aid.)
McGarvey, who declined to comment Thursday, took to a blog after the hearing. In a Nov. 6 entry, she wrote about her disappointment.
"Anyone who hears this story thinks it's crazy, and no one can believe that this case saw the inside of a courtroom," she wrote. "But it did. And I lost."
Stephanie Brown, McGarvey's attorney, called the case "a tragedy."
"It's horrible," Brown said. "It's completely broken apart this family."
Michael Ricci echoed those feelings. "This thing is killing me," he said.
At the Cherry Hill office of Caitlyn Ricci's lawyer, Rochester, the phone rang constantly Thursday. Some callers were, as Rochester called them, "kooks."
He read a few comments aimed at Caitlyn Ricci - death threats, he called them - appended to online news stories. "I hope your head explodes" was one, he said.
He had spoken several times to Caitlyn Ricci, who was nearly in tears Thursday, he said.
"Caitlyn is genuinely a sweet, loving kid," he said. "And to see her just destroyed by this, it's heartbreaking."
As he continued discussing the case, another inquiry came in. Rochester let out a sigh.
" Good Morning America wants to do this," Rochester said, pausing. "Great."