“Can I Move Out at 17?” – Blog Series on Runaway Laws by State
NRS receives thousands of calls per month from youth that have run away from home,…

Learn About Runaway Laws in All 50 States

“Can I Move Out at 17?” – Blog Series on Runaway Laws by State

NRS receives thousands of calls per month from youth that have run away from home, are considering running away or wish to move out. Many of these calls are regarding the laws around runaway youth and the legal age that youth can move out of their parental or legal guardian’s home.

In order to better serve runaway youth and their needs, we are beginning a new blog series that will explore the laws around runaway youth in the 50 states. We will deliver some of the important information in these laws within each state, such as the definition of legal adult age, classifications of homeless youth and what defines a “runaway.”

According to our main source of reference, ALONE WITHOUT A HOME: A STATE-BY-STATE REVIEW OF LAWS AFFECTING UNACCOMPANIED YOUTH (A report by the National Law Center on Homeless and Poverty and the National Network for Youth, September, 2012), there are several legalities around runaway and homeless youth. Age, classifications of homelessness, truancy, past juvenile history and other factors contribute to the legislation and enforcement of runaway laws.

*DISCLAIMER: We are not legal experts. Laws can be interpreted differently from county to county and police jurisdiction to police jurisdiction. Everyone’s situation is unique, but we are here 24/7 to help you figure out a plan for your specific situation. For information, please call us at 1-800-RUNAWAY or visit us at 1800RUNAWAY.org.

Legal Age: NRS receives inquiries about legal age from youth who are asking, “Can I move out at 17?” or “Is it legal to live on my own underage?” In order to answer these questions, we must rely on the laws of the states in which the youth lives.

Legal age is determined at the state level. This is also known as the “age of majority.” This is defined as the age at which a person is capable of managing his or her affairs and is responsible for their actions.

However, each state defines legal age differently. According to “Alone without a Home,” 7 state jurisdictions have a “definition of youth that may exceed 18 years of age,” such as Delaware and Nebraska. States like Arkansas, Nevada and Ohio define an adult as 18 years or if graduated from high school. Georgia and Texas define youth as under 17. Connecticut defines a child or youth as under the age of 16. The age of majority in South Carolina and Mississippi is 21 years.

It is important to know what the state’s legal age is because this determines a youth’s ability to live and work without being in violation of state law. According to the report:

  • The vast majority of jurisdictions (82% or 46) allow police to take unaccompanied youth into custody.
  • A small but significant number of jurisdictions define running away (16% or 9) and truancy (11% or 6) as status offenses.

A status offense is defined as “conduct by a minor that is unlawful because of the youth’s age. In other words, an adult may legally engage in the same acts that are considered status offenses if performed by a minor.” This can include running away, truancy, etc.

Classifications of Homeless Youth: According to the report, 18 jurisdictions have a definition for homeless youth. Twenty-eight jurisdictions do not have a specific classification. Most often, homeless youth are included in a broader group of youth that are in high-risk situations.

Some of the terms used to describe homeless or runaway youth are “dependent” or “in need of services.” Several jurisdictions include language in their statutes describing homeless youth as “incorrigible,” “unruly,” “delinquent,” “vagrant,” “wayward,” or “undisciplined juveniles.”

Runaway Status: According to the report, nine jurisdictions classify runaway youth as status offenders: Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Nebraska, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming. This means that if you are stopped by authorities in these states as you are running away, you are committing a crime.

All 50 states allow law enforcement to take runaway youth into custody without the youth’s permission. Of these, 36 allow the authorities to return youth to their home without their permission.

In order to provide an overview of individual state laws, we’ll be sharing each state’s legislation on runaways. We begin with the New England states.

New York  Age of a minor: Any person under 18 years of age.

Runaway status: A person under 18 years of age who is absent from the minor’s legal residence without the consent of the minor’s guardian. A runaway could also be classified as a destitute child. A destitute child is, among other things, any child who, through no neglect on the part of the child’s guardian, is absent from the child’s legal residence without the consent of the child’s guardian.

The New York statutes do not directly address taking a runaway into custody or formal court proceeding related to runaway youth. Social services may classify a runaway youth as a destitute child and provide the youth with services if proper care is not available at home.

Is running away a status offense: No.

Can a youth file for emancipation: There is no general statute that addresses the process of emancipation. Other statutes reference contractual emancipation. An emancipated minor in the context of public health means “a minor patient who is the parent of a child, or who is [16] years of age or older and living independently from his or her parents or guardian.”

New Jersey  Age of a minor: Any person under 18 years of age.

Runaway status: A person under 18 years of age who is absent from his legal residence without the consent of his parents or legal guardian, or who is without a place of shelter where supervision and care are available.

A runaway youth may be taken into custody without a warrant by a police officer. The police officer shall release the youth from custody within six hours. The police officer may transport the youth to the home of the youth’s guardian or another responsible adult and inform the youth of available services.

Is running away a status offense:  No.

Can a youth file for emancipation: There is no general statute that addresses the process of emancipation, but the state does recognize emancipation in other statutes. An emancipated minor means “a person who is under 18 years of age, but who has been married, has entered military service, has a child or is pregnant or has been declared by a court of an administrative agency to be emancipated.”

Maine  Age of a minor: Any person under 18 years of age.

Runaway status: A runaway youth may be taken into interim care without a warrant by a police officer. They can be placed into “interim care” (emergency placement in a shelter, home or juvenile shelter facility).

Is running away a status offense: No.

Can a youth file for emancipation: A minor 16 years of age or older who refuses to live with his/her guardian may file a petition for emancipation with the district court in the division that his parents, guardian, or custodian resides.

Massachusetts  Age of a minor: Any person under 18 years of age.

Runaway status: No specific definition, but could be classified as a child in need of services (CHINS). A child in need of services is, among other things, a child who persistently runs away from the home of the child’s guardian. A runaway youth may be taken into interim care without a warrant by a police officer.

Is running away a status offense: No.

Can a youth file for emancipation: There is no general statute that addresses the process of emancipation, but the state does recognize emancipation in other statutes. The court will not approve of any contract executed by a child unless the parent(s) or guardian of the child have assented to such contract in writing or the court shall find that the child is emancipated.

Rhode Island  Age of a minor: Any person under 18 years of age.

Runaway status: No specific definition, but could be classified as a wayward child. A wayward child is, among other things, a child who has deserted the child’s home without good or sufficient cause. Wayward children can be taken into custody for up to 24 hours without a court order.

Is running away a status offense: No.

Can a youth file for emancipation: There is no general statute that addresses the process of emancipation, but the state does recognize emancipation in other statutes.

New Hampshire   Age of a minor: Any person under 17 years of age.

Runaway status: No specific definition, but could be classified as a child in need of services (CHINS). A child in need of services is, among other things, a child who persistently runs away from the home of the child’s guardian.

A runaway youth may be taken into custody without a warrant by a police officer. The police officer must then release the youth into the custody of the youth’s guardian or deliver the youth to the court where the youth will be placed with a guardian, relative, or in a temporary shelter facility.

Is running away a status offense: No.

Can a youth file for emancipation: There is no general statute that addresses the process of emancipation, but the state does recognize emancipation in other statutes. A person who is under 18 years old, but who has documentation which supports a claim that he has been emancipated in accordance with the laws of the state in which he previously had been residing, shall be considered to be emancipated.

We will cover all 50 states in this blog series to help discern the individual state statutes.

For more information, connect with NRS at 1800RUNAWAY.org via chat, email, forum or text at 66008.

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