For many teenagers, the allure of living independently from their parents is strong. They yearn for the freedom to make their own decisions, set their own rules, and lead their lives without parental oversight.
However, the legal landscape surrounding a 17-year-old’s ability to move out varies by state and situation. While some might be driven by exceptional circumstances such as neglect, abuse, or a hostile home environment, the overarching question remains: Can a 17-year-old legally live on their own without their parent’s permission?
Teenagers often dream of breaking free from parental constraints to live their own lives. The thought of living without rules, making independent decisions, and experiencing life on their terms is enticing.
However, the legalities surrounding such a move, especially for a 17-year-old, are complex. Factors like state laws, exceptional circumstances like abuse or a hostile home environment, and the teenager’s specific situation play a crucial role in determining the legality of such a decision.
Can a 17-Year-Old Legally Move Out?
What is the Legal Age of Majority?
The age of majority is a significant legal milestone, marking the transition from childhood to adulthood. Upon reaching this age, individuals gain full legal rights and responsibilities, such as the ability to vote, join the military, or enter into contracts. In the majority of states within the United States, this age is set at eighteen (18). Until this age, most states prohibit teenagers from living independently from their parents.
When an individual reaches the age of majority, they step into the world of adulthood, equipped with all its legal rights and responsibilities. This includes privileges like voting, joining the military, and signing contracts. In the United States, this age is predominantly eighteen (18). Hence, until they reach this age, many teenagers are legally bound to stay in their parent’s homes unless certain conditions are met.
Exceptions When a Minor Can Move Out Before Turning 18:
While the age of majority is set at eighteen (18) in forty-seven (47) states and Washington, D.C., there are exceptions. States like Alabama, Colorado, Indiana, New Jersey, and Nebraska have set the age at nineteen (19). Mississippi stands out with an age of majority at twenty-one (21).
Interestingly, in Missouri, a 17-year-old can legally move out. Even if parents file a missing person report for a 17-year-old runaway in Missouri, the law doesn’t consider them a minor. Some states even have provisions allowing minors to move out if they’re married, employed, or attending college.
In the vast majority of the United States, forty-seven (47) states and Washington, D.C., the age of majority is eighteen (18). However, there are outliers. States like Alabama, Colorado, Indiana, New Jersey, and Nebraska recognize nineteen (19) as the legal age. Mississippi sets it even higher at twenty-one (21).
Missouri offers a unique stance, allowing 17-year-olds to move out legally. Furthermore, certain states provide exceptions for minors, such as if they’re married, employed, or in college.
Is it Illegal for a Teenager to Run Away From Home?
In some regions, when a teenager decides to run away from home, it’s not just a family matter but also a legal concern. A few states categorize running away as a “status” offense. This means the act is only considered a violation of the law because the individual is a minor. Other examples of status offenses include truancy, curfew violations, and underage drinking.
Being “ungovernable” or beyond the control of parents or guardians is another such offense. If a minor is found guilty of these offenses, they might face penalties ranging from counseling and education to license suspension, fines, and restitution. In extreme cases, they might be placed under the care of a non-parent or guardian.
Can a 17-Year-Old Be Arrested if They Run Away From Home?
A common query among 17-year-olds is whether they can face arrest if they leave home without their parent’s consent. In many states, the police are authorized to take into custody a person who is over seventeen but hasn’t yet reached eighteen, especially if they’ve been reported as “missing.” The age of majority in most states is eighteen (18), which means parents or legal guardians have the right to care for and establish a home for a child who hasn’t reached this age.
The United States Supreme Court addressed this issue in 1995 in the case Vernonia Sch. Dist. 47Jv. Acton. The court ruled that the rights of an unemancipated 17-year-old aren’t as extensive as an adult’s rights. In essence, minors are under the control of their parents or guardians. Hence, in many states, the police can arrest and detain a 17-year-old who has left home without parental consent.
What Happens if a Minor Gets Arrested for Moving Out Without Parental Consent?
In the majority of states, running away isn’t a crime but a status offense. If a missing person report is filed, the police can take the teenager into custody. Once in custody, the police have several options. They can:
- Return the teenager to their home.
- Encourage the parents to allow the teenager to temporarily stay with friends or family.
- Call Child Protective Services if there’s suspicion of abuse.
- Place the teenager in a runaway shelter.
- Detain the teenager in a juvenile detention facility.
If a teenager is fleeing an abusive situation, they should inform the police. All states mandate the police to report child abuse to Child Protective Services. If abuse is confirmed, the child might be placed with a relative, in temporary foster care, or in an emergency shelter.
What Happens if Child Protective Services is Called in for a Runaway?
When Child Protective Services (CPS) gets involved with a teenage runaway, they assess the risk of abuse or neglect in the family home. If CPS believes the teenager is at risk, they’ll determine if returning home is in the child’s best interest. While many children under CPS’s purview remain at home, some might be placed in foster care or group homes, especially if they require emotional and behavioral treatment.
What is a Parent’s Responsibility Until the Child Turns 18?
If a 17-year-old decides to move out before their 18th birthday without a runaway person report being filed, the parent remains responsible. This means they can be held accountable for any legal troubles, medical issues, or unpaid bills associated with the teenager until they turn eighteen (18).
What Options Does a 17-Year-Old Have When Thinking of Leaving Home?
For many teenagers, the allure of independence and the desire to escape challenging home situations can be overwhelming. However, the streets can be perilous, and a majority of teenagers who run away often halt their education and struggle to find secure, lawful employment. Such teens are more likely to indulge in drugs and alcohol, experience mental health issues, and engage in criminal activities. So, what are the alternatives for a 17-year-old contemplating leaving home?
Open up a line of communication:
If you’re a teenager thinking of leaving home, your first step should be to reach out to a trusted family member. This could be a responsible grandparent, aunt, uncle, or an older adult sibling. By initiating a line of communication with them, you can discuss your situation and they might help mediate between you and your parents, guiding you towards the next steps.
Things calm down, Consider returning home:
It’s worth noting that many teens who run away often return home within a few weeks. If you’ve left and are contemplating a return, consider contacting local police or a homeless shelter. They can provide assistance and resources to help you safely return.
Discuss filing for legal guardianship:
In situations where living at home is untenable, another adult, who isn’t your parent, can petition the court for legal guardianship over you until you turn 18. If granted, this guardian will assume many parental responsibilities, including ensuring you continue your education.
File for dependency:
In more severe cases, a teenager can file for dependency. Here, the court becomes the guardian and determines the living arrangements for the child. Often, the state’s child protective services or a similar department might offer family reunification services, such as therapy, or place the teen in foster care.
File for emancipation:
For those aged 16 or older in most states, there’s the option to request emancipation from parents. This process requires the teenager to prove that emancipation is in their best interests, that they can financially support themselves, and that they will remain in school. Most states also require the consent of the child’s parents for emancipation. Emancipation grants teenagers legal independence before they reach the age of majority.
Help if You are Thinking of Running Away:
Not all minors who leave their homes are classified as runaways. Some are “throwaways,” forced out by their parents or guardians without any alternative care. If you’re contemplating running away, consider reaching out to resources like the National Runaway Safeline (NRS).
They offer guidance and referrals to regional agencies across all 50 states. Their helpline, 1-800-RUNAWAY, is available for assistance. For those facing crises related to suicide, substance abuse, or mental distress, the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline operates 24/7. Alternatively, for immediate assistance with any emotional issue, the Crisis Text Line can be accessed by texting “HELLO” to 741741.