The case of a Temple University student who sued her parents for tuition - after more than a year of courtroom drama that featured shouting matches between lawyers and a tearful plea from the mother - is headed for a new venue.
The Appellate Division of New Jersey's Superior Court will take up Caitlyn Ricci's case, which until Monday had been heard by two Camden County judges.
"This is a very difficult case," Judge Donald Stein said before sending the case to the appeals court. "I've really never seen a family torn apart the way this family is torn apart, and it's a tragedy."
In October, Stein ruled that Ricci's divorced parents, Maura McGarvey and Michael Ricci, must pay $16,000 of their daughter's tuition at Temple. They refused, arguing that she failed to apply for all available financial aid and that she never told them she was planning to attend the university.
On Monday, with the balance still hanging, Stein told both sides, "There is an order. Whether it's right or wrong, the question is: What do we do about enforcement?"
After an hour of debate, that question remained largely unanswered. Stein said he would not impose fines of $100 per day or hold McGarvey and Michael Ricci in contempt. That means they can continue to not pay tuition without being penalized until the appeal process - which could take up to a year - is complete.
McGarvey, 42, who filed an appeal in the case last week, and Michael Ricci, 44, did not attend Monday's hearing. Later, by phone, Michael Ricci said he hopes his daughter "wakes up and realizes that we don't have to do this."
"At the end of the day, nobody's winning here," said Ricci, a sales manager for a safety consulting company and varsity basketball coach at Haddon Heights High School. "I still don't have a relationship with my daughter."
Caitlyn Ricci, 21, sued her parents several months after leaving her mother's Washington Township home in February 2013. Her parents said that she had been kicked out of "Disney college" - an internship program associated with Walt Disney World in Florida - after she was caught drinking underage, and that she refused to do chores at home. Caitlyn Ricci said she left after a dispute about taking a summer class.
She moved into the Cherry Hill home of her grandparents, her father's parents, who have a long-standing rift with their son. Michael Ricci has called their presence "toxic" and accused them of steering his daughter's actions.
The family's divide was clear earlier this month when they sat on opposite sides in court during a different dispute: Caitlyn Ricci's $906 tuition at Rowan College at Gloucester County, which she attended before Temple.
McGarvey, in tears, said during the hearing that her daughter "only wants the money." Caitlyn Ricci disagreed, saying, "I want to go to college."
Superior Court Judge Thomas Shusted Jr. ordered her parents to pay the amount.
In New Jersey, the precedent that separated 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."
Opponents of the ruling have argued that it applies only to divorced and separated parents - not married parents - meaning a separated couple have to pay a child's tuition, while a married couple do not.
Last week, Assemblymen Christopher J. Brown (R., Burlington) and Paul D. Moriarty (D., Gloucester) introduced legislation that calls for married and divorced parents to be treated equally in tuition disputes. The legislation, which Caitlyn Ricci's parents helped craft, still allows a child to sue a parent, or one parent to sue another, for tuition payments.
Caitlyn Ricci's parents have said that they cannot afford her $26,000 tuition at Temple, where she is majoring in psychology. Andrew Rochester, Caitlyn Ricci's attorney, has rebutted those claims, arguing that McGarvey and Michael Ricci have a combined annual household income of more than $272,000.
Michael Ricci and McGarvey, a middle school English teacher, divorced in 1997. They have each remarried and have younger children.