David Mandel
Chief Executive Officer, OHEL Children's Home and Family Services

Frivolity in the courthouse

There is a prominent story in the national news of an 18-year old high school girl suing her parents for payment of the remainder of her senior high school year, upcoming college tuition and living expenses. There are two inherent and manifest problems with this case – first, that parents could be forced to pay the expenses of an emancipated adult child and second, that the United States legal system would entertain such a frivolous lawsuit in the first place.

In the instant case, an adult child in New Jersey, an honors student no less, claims her parents emotionally abused her as a teenager. She petitions the court to declare her non-emancipated and therefore have her parents’ pay what essentially amounts to her full expenses, including her legal fees, while not living with them. Her parents contend she voluntarily left home for refusing to abide by the standard rules they set for their children and declared that she would soon be an adult and could do whatever she wanted.

The Court refused to accept the petitioner’s suit indicating that parents have the right and an obligation to establish rules for their children. The Court implored the parents and the child to seek reconciliation, but left the door open to revisit the case in coming weeks.

Why is it even necessary for the Court to defer judgment on this case? How could a case such as this justify the expenditure of government funds for a Judge, stenographer, security guards and the like? All these contribute to rising local taxes and add to our nation’s trillion dollar deficit.

Where is the logic?

The fundamental difference between a child and an adult is that parents and even government agencies have unique obligations in protecting a minor, while an adult can contend and advocate for himself. Freedom of choice is a fundamental principle articulated in the Constitution.

Imagine a society in which the 5 million Americans suffering from Dementia, as well as the 5.2 million people with Alzheimer’s, can petition the Court prior to the onset of their illness to require their adult children to house and care for them once they become incapacitated. It would therefore no longer be the adult children’s prerogative to respect their parents and selflessly choose to undertake the emotional and financial responsibility of caring for them, rather, it would be an obligation so deemed by an indiscriminate court system – with a portion of both the parents’ and children’s life savings spent on attorney fees.

And each year, the 58 million Americans who suffer from mental health issues can also sue a parent, sibling or close relative forcing them to become their legal and financial guardian – a George Orwellian society in which we diminish the choices of competent adults and the courts will decide which of the strong society members will care for the weak.

It will not be Darwin’s, “Survival of the Fittest,” but rather, “Survivors of the Lawsuits.” How long can that last?

Human beings are compassionate creatures. There is an inherent goodness in people to care for loved ones and to respect their elders. Most people comprehend and accept their responsibilities with regard to their children and parents. Their freedom of choice is incontrovertible. For a court to become involved in the legal, lawful, rightful relationship between a parent and an adult, competent child is truly a transgression of an inalienable right.

We all recognize that there are of course circumstances that require court intervention in the relationships between parents and children. In over four decades of serving individuals and families, OHEL has unfortunately seen numerous cases of parents neglecting or abusing their children that require court intervention to protect these children, as it should be.

There are 1,225,452 licensed attorneys in the United States who busy City and State courts across the nation with 50 million cases. 50 Million. Many of these court cases are indeed legitimate and important. Yet, as this young woman’s lawsuit against her parents demonstrates, our legal system needs a primer in the Handbook of Common Sense. And, as any teen would tell you today, this case is “so random” – far too random in fact to clog our legal system and tax payer’s pockets.

About the Author
David Mandel is CEO of Ohel Children's Home and Family Services. For more than 50 years, Ohel has provided a safe haven for those suffering in the community. Ohel cares for more than 17,000 individuals in the New York metropolitan area and across all communities offering a broad range of mental health services including outpatient counseling, trauma, anxiety, eldercare, respite and housing.