Here is our third installment in our blog series “Can I Move out at 17?” – Runaway Laws by State. We cover the Southeast states West Virginia, Virginia, North & South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.

The National Runaway Safeline receives a great many questions from runaway and at-risk youth who want to know the consequences of running away. These are youth who are not sure if moving out when underage is legal. They often ask, “Can I move out at 17?”

Can I Move Out at 17? - Runaway Laws in Southeast US

There can be legal ramifications for underage youth who are found by law enforcement unaccompanied by a parent or guardian. These laws also differ from state to state.

We are sharing 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.”

*We are drawing our information from the report by the National Law Center on Homeless and Poverty and the National Network for Youth in September, 2012, “ALONE WITHOUT A HOME: A STATE-BY-STATE REVIEW OF LAWS AFFECTING UNACCOMPANIED YOUTH.”

We will continue with states in the Southeast: West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.

*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 at the National Runaway Safeline 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.

West Virginia  Age of a minor: In West Virginia this is defined as “child” or “juvenile.” The age of minor is 18 years and under.

Runaway status: There is no specific definition, but a runaway could be classified as a status offender. A status offender is, among other things, a juvenile who has left the care of the juvenile’s guardian, without the consent of the juvenile’s guardian or without good cause.

Is running away a status offense: Yes. A runaway youth may be taken into custody without a warrant by a police officer. The police officer shall then notify the youth’s guardian and either release the youth into the custody of the youth’s guardian.

Can a youth file for emancipation: Yes. Any minor 16 years of age or older may petition a court to be declared emancipated. The parents or custodians will be made respondents and given notice of the petition.

Virginia  Age of a minor: In the state of Virginia the age of a minor is 18 years and younger.

Runaway status: In Virginia, there is no specific definition, but a “runaway” could be classified as a child in need of supervision. A child in need of supervision is a child who remains away from, deserts, or abandons his/her family or guardian without consent on more than one occasion, or escapes from a residential care facility.

Is running away a status offense: No. However, a runaway youth may be taken into custody without a warrant by a police officer. A runaway youth may be declared a child in need of supervision. This means a child who is habitually truant or who has run away from home on more than one occasion, which conduct presents substantial danger to the child’s life or health. The local judicial government can then intervene on behalf of the child and place the child into protective custody.

Can a youth file for emancipation: Yes. Any minor 16 years of age or older may petition for emancipation in the juvenile or domestic relations district court for the county or city in which the minor or his/her guardian resides.

North Carolina  Age of a minor: North Carolina defines this as any person under 18 years of age.

Runaway status: There is no specific definition but can be classified as an undisciplined juvenile. Under state law, an undisciplined juvenile is, among other things, a juvenile 16 or 17 years of age who has run away from home for a period of more than 24 hours. Police can take undisciplined juveniles into custody and must notify parents/guardians/custodians.

Is running away a status offense: No.

Can a youth file for emancipation: Yes. Any juvenile who is 16 years of age or older and who has resided in the same county in North Carolina or on federal territory within the boundaries of North Carolina for the six months preceding the filing of the petition may petition a court in that county for a judicial decree of emancipation.

South Carolina  Age of a minor: Any unemancipated, unmarried person under 21 years of age.

Runaway status: No specific definition, but could be classified as a status offender.

Is running away a status offense: Yes. A status offender may be ordered to participate in the Youth Mentor Program or may be placed in the juvenile justice system for up to 90 days.

Can a youth file for emancipation: There is no general statute addressing the requirements for emancipation, but South Carolina does recognize emancipation from other statutes.

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

Runaway status: This can be defined in Georgia as an unruly child. Under state law, an unruly child means, among other things, a child who, without consent of his/her guardian deserts his/her home. The police can take into custody, without a warrant, any child they believe is delinquent or “unruly.” A runaway youth may be taken into custody without a warrant by a police officer and then can be released into the custody of their guardian.

Is running away a status offense: Yes. Runaway youth can also be held in secure detention facilities in Georgia.

Can a youth file for emancipation:Yes. Emancipation occurs by operation of law when a minor (a) is validly married, (b) reaches 18 years of age, or (c) is on active duty with the armed forces of the United States. A minor may file a petition in juvenile court in the county where the minor resides

Florida  Age of a minor: Any person under 18 years of age whose disabilities have not been removed by marriage or other things.

Runaway status: Can be classified in Florida as a child in need of services. A child in need of services is, among other things, a child that is found to have persistently run away from the child’s guardian despite reasonable efforts that were made to help the child.

Is running away a status offense: No. However, a runaway youth may be taken into custody without a warrant by a police officer. The officer may release the youth into the custody of the youth’s guardian or to a Department-approved family-in-need-of-services or child-in-need-of-services provider.

Can a youth file for emancipation: Any minor is considered to be an emancipated minor if the person is married or has been married, and may manage his or her estate, contract, sue and be sued, and perform all acts that he or she could do if not a minor. A minor 16 years of age or older may have a natural or legal guardian petition any circuit court to remove the minor’s disabilities of nonage.

We hope you found this helpful. For more information you can reach us at 1800RUNAWAY.org, on our chat page, on email, or visit our forum.

Related Articles: Are you living in a different state? Find your state and the related information below:

Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Idaho

Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona

Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana

Vermont, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania

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  • Aaron

    I’ve lived through emotional abuse for years now and I feel neglected by the family I live with. I am 17 and have family who said they would take me in since it’s my mom, my brother and I. He has hit me more than once to escalate things to fist fight and he is 23. I want to move out but my mom says no, what can I do?

  • Hi, Aaron. Thank you for reaching out to us. We are so sorry to hear that you are going through a difficult time right now. We are here to listen and to help. Our crisis services center is available right now and 24-7 to listen to your needs, help you create a plan of action for your next move that will keep you safe and off the street, as well as provide referrals to services in your area that can help. We ask that you please give us a call at 1-800-RUNAWAY, or send us an email or use our live chat function through our website, 1800RUNAWAY.org. We hope to hear from you soon.

  • Tabitha

    In my house I am verbally and physicaly hurt. I am constantly yelled at, cussed out, called worthless shit a dissapointment and such. Is it illegal to hit a minor (12-13) so hard on the thigh that it leaves a bruse the exact shape of their hand? Or to be slapped upside the head, or on the shoulders or sides? I’m asking because this always happens to me! They say I am “smart-mouthing” and they physically hit me, and verbally curse at me. Is that ok? Even as a guardian?

  • Hi, Tabitha. Thank you for finding our blog and choosing to contact us. It sounds like you are in a very difficult situation. We are here to listen and to help. Our crisis services center is available at any time to speak with you, to help you create a plan of action that will keep you safe and off the street, as well as refer you to services in your area that can help.

    In order to best help, we could use some more background information. We ask that you please give us a call at 1-800-RUNAWAY, or send us an email or use our live chat option through our website, 1800RUNAWAY.org. We look forward to hearing from you.

  • Marisa

    Hello I’m 20 and have left my home in Florida and am heading away on my own. I know that my mother has contacted the police and am just wondering if I would get arrested for “running away”. I wouldn’t think so since I am no longer a minor. Just wondering what are the ramifications, if any, for running away from home. I believe that there is a law in California that says if the adult was found to have run away voluntarily the location does not have to be disclosed to the family if the runaway doesn’t want so. Is that true also in other states? Just wondering, and appreciate this very informative article. I’m not in any danger nor does my family really need me anymore, just don’t want to get in trouble, lol. But I am okay and am more thank capable of living on my own.

  • Hi, Marisa. Thank you for finding our blog and contacting us. It sounds like you have chosen to leave home, which can be a complicated situation. We are here to help.

    Per your question, we suggest contacting our crisis services center for information. We are available 24-7 for any of your questions. We can also help you to prepare a plan of action for your next move that will keep you safe and off the street, as well as provide referrals to services in your area that can help.

    We ask that you please call us at 1-800-RUNAWAY, or send us an email or use our live chat through our website, 1800RUNAWAY.org. We hope that you choose to contact us soon.