Does Daddy Owe Her a College Degree? Zimmerman Vs. Zimmerman Takes a Parent to Court
What's happened since is about as routine as man bites dog. Last month Adrienne Zimmerman, a 21-year-old junior at New York's Adelphi University, filed suit against her father, Theodore Zimmerman, a Manhattan real estate lawyer, claiming he is bound by unwritten contract to put her through college. The case, a rare one, is being watched by legal scholars—and anxious parents—as a possible trend setter. "It's come full circle," says Leonard Loeb, chairman of the American Bar Association's section on family law. "The old common-law theory was that the child is a chattel. Current social theory is that children should benefit from the fact of their parenthood."
Like most legal cases, the human side of this one is tinged with pain. In the fall of 1976 Adrienne enrolled as a freshman at Adelphi, and her father paid her tuition. He had, she claims, forbidden her to take typing, shorthand or bookkeeping classes in high school, thus depriving her of the skills necessary to do secretarial work. A few months later Adrienne's parents began a bitter divorce proceeding. Neither of her brothers now lives at home, but Adrienne has remained with her mother, who last year suffered a stroke. Adrienne says her father reneged on a promise to Adelphi that he would pay tuition in installments, and this spring the university suspended her, citing $6,700 due for her sophomore and junior years. Her suit asks for the back tuition, plus any educational expenses she may run up in the future. It claims her father, 49, earns more than $100,000 a year, and adds that he owes Adrienne's mother $15,000 in back alimony.
"I told Dad," Adrienne recalls, " 'I don't want to go to court over this; it's silly, it's not necessary. Just keep your promise.' He said no, if I wanted to go to court, fine, go to court. I haven't spoken to him about it since." Adrienne's claimed contract with her father is not written, but oral contracts are accepted by courts—if sometimes difficult to prove. Not surprisingly, Adrienne's lawyer, who handled her mother's divorce, is hopeful about the case. Zimmerman, who terms the suit "unfortunate," will say only, "It's a family matter."
Adrienne is a B student who attends school in the mornings 15 miles from her home and acts as nurse for her mother. She has obtained a bank commitment for a loan for this year's tuition, and hopes to persuade Adelphi to wait for the past-due fees, pending the outcome of her suit. If she wins, it means her father has only begun writing tuition checks. To follow in his career footsteps, she wants to go to his alma mater, Brooklyn Law School.