Issues of privacy between parents and children can be very sensitive matters, with parents trying to balance their desire to support and protect with their children’s rights. Sometimes, however, a parent’s right to know can supersede the child’s privacy rights, as illustrated in the recent New Jersey case of Van Brunt v. Van Brunt.
The question in that case came down to whether children can both evoke their right to privacy under the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and claim entitlement to child support and financial assistance with their education. The court’s answer essentially was no.
The Van Brunts are a divorced couple who have joint legal custody of their two children. Under terms of their divorce, Mrs. Van Brunt was named primary residential parent and Mr. Van Brunt was ordered to pay child support, including contributions towards the children’s college expenses, until they become emancipated. The children would not be considered emancipated, according to the agreement, as long as they were enrolled in a full-time, four-year academic college program. (1)
At one point Mr. Van Brunt filed a motion seeking disclosure of his oldest child’s college records verifying her status as a full-time student. The court ordered release of this information and Mrs. Van Brunt initially failed to comply. Mr. Van Brunt then filed a motion for emancipation of his daughter, who was over 21 at the time. (2)
Mrs. Van Brunt eventually released some of the requested information but claimed that obtaining it was a violation of her daughter’s privacy rights under FERPA. The court disagreed saying, in essence, that if Mrs. Van Brunt did not have enough influence over her daughter to comply with the court order, then perhaps the daughter could no longer be considered unemancipated. (2)
FERPA prohibits colleges from divulging student information to third parties without the student’s written permission, but the court pointed out that such permission is not required when the information is needed to comply with a court order. (3)
According to the court, college students cannot have it both ways. In other words, the Van
Brunt’s daughter cannot keep her college records private from dad and still demand his financial support of that education.
The court further ruled that while the daughter would not be ordered to release her college records, failure to do so could lead to her emancipation. (1)