Today, we learned that parents can't be forced to pay the legal fees for their daughter who is suing them. But another decision has taught us that an estranged father still has to pay for his daughter's financially irresponsible choice of law school...
On Above the Law, I've done a lot of writing about the high price of legal education. Tuition is up, job placements are down, right now is a very risky time to go to law school, especially if you are paying full price.
It's a risky time to even go to a good law school. A good, Ivy League law school like Cornell Law.
James Livingston's daughter made just that kind of risky choice. She decided to go to Cornell for law school, in 2012. Now she's got a $225,000 bill. She wants her father to pay half.
Livingston, a history professor, divorced his wife, Patricia Rossi, in 2009. At the time, Livingston agreed to pay half of his daughter's law school costs. According to the Newark Star-Ledger:
Even though father and daughter were no longer communicating, Livingston offered to put up $7,500 per year if she chose Rutgers Law School and lived at home. His daughter opted to go to Cornell instead.
It might seem ridiculous, but in this market, going to a state school at a low price can be a much wiser decision than going to a top private school for full price. Students tend to overvalue going to the "best school they can get into," because many of them are playing with monopoly money. They're borrowing it from the government or getting it from their parents. It's hard to take the "cost-effective" option when the costs aren't immediate and the effectiveness is unknown.
That said, it's clearly the daughter's choice. A judge ordered Livingston to pay his part of his daughter's law school bill, which comes out to about $112,000.
Livingston argued that his daughter didn't consult him on her school choice, but here's the thing... he didn't put that clause in his divorce decree. See, you can absolutely say, "I will pay half my daughter's bills if she consults with me before she incurs them." You can even say "I'll only pay my daughter's tab if she goes exactly where I tell her to." But if you don't put that in writing, if you say "I'll pay half," you are going to end up paying half. As his wife's lawyer put it: "The parties can agree to support the child and that's exactly what occurred here."
And I don't think anybody is going to have a lot of sympathy for a father who can't keep up a basically functional relationship with his daughter. Maybe his daughter didn't want to go to cost effective Rutgers because her freaking father teaches there and she didn't want to bump into him anywhere around campus? And Cornell is a great school, at a great value — if your parents are paying for it.
Livingston is a history professor, maybe if he had gone to law school, he'd have learned to put his preferences in writing. It's a mistake his educated daughter is unlikely to repeat.
The Next Bubble: Law School Tuition [Above the Law]
A Guide For Choosing A Low-Ranked Law School [Above the Law]