Judge: Parents must pay daughter's county college tuition

Caitlyn Ricci (left), now at Temple University, sued her parents, Maura McGarvey (center) and Michael Ricci.
Caitlyn Ricci (left), now at Temple University, sued her parents, Maura McGarvey (center) and Michael Ricci. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Posted: December 10, 2014

Caitlyn Ricci and her parents sat on opposite sides of the Camden courtroom, emblematic of a deep family divide. On the right was Ricci, 21, wearing a solid green shirt and black dress pants, with her attorney.

On the left side, seated together, were her divorced parents: middle school English teacher Maura McGarvey and varsity high school basketball coach Michael Ricci, joined by each of their attorneys.

Superior Court Judge Thomas Shusted Jr. implored both sides - who have fought more than a year over who should pay Caitlyn Ricci's college tuition - to stop bickering. To attend counseling. To agree on something.

But disagreement ruled the day. As Shusted spoke one by one to Caitlyn Ricci and her parents, different stories emerged.

"I love that child more than anything," McGarvey, 42, said, tearing up as she spoke to Shusted. "But she only wants the money."

"It's not about the money," Caitlyn Ricci, maintaining her composure, told Shusted. "I want to go to college."

After two hours of glares, tears, and head shaking, Shusted reaffirmed his order that McGarvey and Michael Ricci pay $906 of their daughter's tuition for Rowan College at Gloucester County.

But that's far from the end of this family saga.

The two sides have yet to resolve whether Caitlyn Ricci's parents should also have to pay $16,000 in tuition from Temple University, which she now attends after leaving the college, formerly Gloucester County College.

A second judge, Donald Stein, ruled in Caitlyn Ricci's favor in that case on Halloween, saying her parents should pay Temple the money for the 2014-15 school year. But they have refused, arguing that their daughter - with whom they say they have not spoken in more than a year - did not apply for all eligible loans and scholarships.

Caitlyn Ricci's attorney, Andrew Rochester, said his client had paid some of her costs at Temple, which total $26,000, with financial aid.

In New Jersey, the precedent that parents should pay for some of a child's college costs dates to 1982, when Newburgh v. Arrigo was heard in the state Supreme Court. In that case, the judges debated whether Joan Newburgh - who married her husband, Melvin, two years before he was killed in a car accident in 1975 - should have to pay higher education costs for his 19-year-old son, Steven.

"In general," the court wrote in its decision, "financially capable parents should contribute to the higher education of children who are qualified students."

For the Ricci family, trouble began in February 2013, when Caitlyn Ricci moved from her mother's Washington Township home into her grandparents' Cherry Hill house.

McGarvey said in court that her daughter left after refusing to do chores and follow a curfew, and that she had problems with underage drinking. Caitlyn Ricci said she moved partly because of a dispute about taking a summer class.

In August 2013, she sued her parents for the county college tuition. The judge ruled in her favor several months later. On Monday, because her parents had not paid since that ruling, Shusted upheld his decision.

Her parents - who divorced in 1997 - have each remarried and have younger children.

In court Monday, Shusted tried to resolve the family drama, comparing it to a "dysfunctional tug-of-war."

"Do you think your parents love you?" Shusted asked Caitlyn Ricci.

"I think they do love me," she replied. "I just think they have other obligations they put before that."

She said her parents had a "nothing will ever be good enough" mentality, saying that when she received two A's, one B, and one C one semester at the community college, her parents grew upset.

Entangled in the debate are Caitlyn Ricci's grandparents, her father's parents, whom Michael Ricci called "toxic." He has accused his mother and father of motivating his daughter to sue for tuition money and attend Temple, where she majors in psychology.

Matthew Ricci, 67, who drew intense glares from his son Monday, disputed that account.

"It was her decision," he told the judge. "I didn't say anything. We didn't say anything, where to go, what to do."

He also told the judge that he paid his son's college tuition and said, "I think she should have the opportunity that we gave our kids."

Asked if there was any way to bridge the communication gap between him and his 44-year-old son - which is said to have existed for more than a decade - Matthew Ricci paused and said, "I doubt it."

At other points during Monday's hearing, Shusted reminded Caitlyn Ricci's parents that she was a young adult capable of making her own decisions.

"It's her life," Shusted said.

"Then let her pay for it," Michael Ricci, a senior account manager, said. "Because I can't afford it, and neither can her mom."

Rochester, Caitlyn Ricci's attorney, said the parents' combined household income was more than $272,000 a year.

McGarvey and Michael Ricci have until Jan. 1 to pay their daughter's community college tuition, which they said they plan to do.

The Temple tuition is a different issue. Attorneys for both sides met privately with another judge on that Monday. They failed to reach an agreement.


mboren@phillynews.com

856-779-3829 @borenmc

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