What Are a Parent’s Legal Rights With a 17-Year-Old?

Raising a teenager can be stressful for parents. You may feel like you don’t know your child anymore, or there’s so much tension in your house that you don’t know what to do. What should you do if your teenager is out of control or threatening to move out? What are your legal rights and responsibilities as a parent?

Generally speaking, parents are responsible for their children until they reach the “age of majority.” Accordingly, parents must provide food, housing, clothing, medical care, and education for their children until they reach the age of majority.

This article will help parents understand their rights and responsibilities under the law as it relates to dealing with a teenager that may be considering moving out. By the end of this article, you will understand:

  • What is the legal age of majority in your state – and why that matters.
  • Can a parent say “No” to a teenager that is threatening to move out of the house.
  • What a parent can do if a teenager moves out of the house without your consent.
  • Is it illegal for your teenager to move out without consent?
  • Can you call the police if your teenager moves out without consent?
  • What are some legal options to help with the situation?

What is the Legal Age of Majority? (Why This Matters)

The legal age of majority is the age at which an individual will be legally considered an adult. When a person reaches the age of majority, they acquire all of the legal privileges and obligations that come with being an adult, such as the ability to vote, serve in the military, and enter into contracts.

Tim’s Legal Tip: In the United States, 44 of the 50 states have set the age of majority at eighteen (18) years of age. The legal age of majority is nineteen (19) in Alabama, Colorado, Indiana, Nebraska, and New Jersey. In Mississippi, the age of majority is twenty-one (21).

Parents are legally responsible for taking care of and raising their children until they reach the age of majority. Once a child reaches the age of majority, parents are no longer legally responsible to provide housing and financial support for their children.

Can a Parent Legally Say “No” if a 17-Year-Old is Threatening to Move Out?

Generally speaking, a parent has the right to keep a child at home until the child turns eighteen (18). The United States Supreme Court has said that a child under the age of 18 is subject to the physical control of their parents or guardians. A parent can legally tell their 17-year-old that they cannot move out.

The Supreme Court has stated, “Unemancipated minors lack some of the most fundamental rights of self-determination — including even the right of liberty in its narrow sense, i.e., the right to come and go at will. They are subject, even as to their physical freedom, to the control of their parents or guardians.” Vernonia Sch. Dist. 47Jv. Acton, 515 U.S. 646, 654 (1995)

According to the United States Supreme Court, parents can prevent their children from moving out of the family house without consent. As most parents know, just because what you are trying to do is the legally correct thing does not mean your teenager is going to listen.

If you want to learn more about a teenager’s rights, here is an article that you won’t want to miss.

What to Do if Your Teenager Moves Out Without Consent?

A large number of teenagers run away from home every year. If a teenager leaves home without parental consent, the law considers the child a “runaway.” 

A runaway child is any person under 18 who moves away from home or a place of legal residence without the permission of a parent or legal guardian.

If a teenager moves out of their home without permission, the parents can call the police and report the teenager as missing. Running away is not usually a criminal offense. In most states, running away is an offense that violates the juvenile code.

If your child has run away from home and you are concerned about their well-being, you should call your local police department and file a missing child report. There is no waiting period necessary when filing a missing child report. The Missing Children’s Assistance Act was passed in 1974. The law prohibits the police from establishing a waiting period before accepting a runaway-child report.

Typically, if the police receive a missing child report, they will attempt to locate the child, and if they find them, they will attempt to bring the minor home. When a teen runs away multiple times, the police may elect to send the child to a juvenile detention center instead of sending the child home. 

Is it Illegal for a Teenager to Run Away?

Running away from home is typically categorized as a “status” offense. A status offender” is a child who is charged with or who has committed an offense that would not be criminal if committed by an adult.

A status offense is when a child breaks the law just because they are a minor. Other status offenses include being hard to control or not being watched by parents or guardians, breaking curfews, drinking alcohol when you’re too young, and not going to school. Penalties for status violations may include counseling, license suspension, fines, restitution, and placement with a non-parent or guardian, among other things.

Why Do Teenagers Run Away?

Teenagers run away for many reasons. According to the National Center for Mission and Exploited Children and the National Runaway Safeline, the following factors play a role in teenagers running away:

  • Family relationships. This includes divorce, remarriage, and fighting with siblings and step-parents.

  • Abuse of any kind, including physical, sexual, emotional, and verbal.

  • A sense of being undesired and neglected.

  • Alcohol and drug addictions. This can be either by the child or being in a home where there is alcohol and drug abuse.

  • Suicidal thoughts and behavior.

  • Medical conditions.

  • Mental health conditions, and

  • Disagreement about gender identity or sexual orientation.

What are the Legal Consequences of a Teenager Running Away?

Runaways frequently find themselves in a catch-22: going back home may not be safe, but it may not be safe for them to sleep on the streets. Although they live separately from their parents or guardians, they do not have the legal capacity to live freely because they are minors. For example, minors cannot enter into most contracts, such as a lease, nor can they be hired for many jobs. Here is a review of the rights, opportunities, and challenges runaways face under the law.

Teenagers Can Be Arrested for Running Away

In most states, running away is not a crime. Instead, it is a status offense. If a missing person report has been filed, the police can take a teenager into custody. When the police take a runaway into custody, they have several options, including:

  • Take the teenager back home.

  • Persuade the parents to permit the child to stay temporarily with friends or family.

  • Calling Child Protective Services if abuse is suspected.

  • Placing the child in a runaway shelter, or

  • Having the teenager held at a juvenile detention facility.

Rember, parents can report a runaway to the police at any time. There is no waiting period. Federal Law prohibits the police from establishing a waiting period before accepting a runaway-child report. When a child is reported as missing, the police enter the child’s name and physical description into the National Crime Information Computer (NCIC).

If a teenager is running away because of an abusive situation and does not want to return home, the teenager should tell the police about the abuse. The police will take any complaints of child abuse seriously.

All states require the police to report child abuse to Child Protective Services for investigation. If abuse is occurring, the child will not be sent home. Instead, the child will be placed with a relative, temporary foster care, or an emergency shelter.

A Teenager Can Apply for a New Legal Guardian

Runaways who desire to live with a willing and suitable adult relative or friend may be able to do so through a legal guardianship transfer. The rights and obligations of a legal guardian are identical to those of a parent.

If a teenager wants to obtain a legal guardian other than their parents, they will have to file a petition with their local court that handles family law cases. The minor will most likely need a lawyer to help with this process. The court will appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the child.

The court will order the guardian ad litem to perform an investigation and prepare a report outlining the guardian ad litem’s findings and recommendations. The court will then set the matter for a hearing.

The minor’s parents and other relatives can attend the hearing. After hearing from everyone involved, the judge will decide if the minor would be better off with a new legal guardian. Even if the parents of the teenager object, the judge can nonetheless authorize the guardianship if the judge determines a new guardian is in the teenager’s best interest.

A Teenager Can Apply to Become Emancipated

A legal procedure called emancipation frees minors from parental support and supervision duties and grants them the same legal rights as adults. When a person reaches the age of majority (typically 18), they automatically become emancipated. In some states, emancipation automatically occurs if the minor gets married or joins the military with parental permission.

If a teenager wants to move out before age 18, they can petition the court, requesting an emancipation order. To obtain a court order of emancipation, a teenager must convince the court that:

  • It is in their best interest to become emancipated.

  • They can live alone (without the help of parents or guardians), and

  • They have legal means of providing for themselves financially.

Courts may also consider the minor’s maturity level, whether or not the minor has received a high school diploma and the parent’s actions that prompted the minor to apply for emancipation. A teenager attempting to flee an abusive parent is more likely to be emancipated than a child who simply disagrees with a parent about a curfew.

At an emancipation hearing, the minor’s parents and other relatives can attend the hearing and present testimony. After hearing from everyone involved, the judge will decide if the minor would be better off emancipated. Even if the parents of the teenager object, the judge can nonetheless order emancipation if the judge determines emancipation is in the teenager’s best interest.

Getting Help if You Are Thinking About Running Away

Not all teenagers who leave their homes are runaways. Teenagers whose parents or guardians have told them to leave their homes without alternative care planned are referred to as “throwaways.” If you are considering running away, or have been thrown out of your home, here are some resources you can call.

The National Runaway Safeline (NRS) acts as a communication channel for homeless and runaway youth. For runaways, their parents, and guardians, NRS offers free, private guidance and referrals to regional agencies in all 50 states. Call 1-800-RUNAWAY right away if you need help.

People experiencing a crisis related to suicide, substance abuse, or mental distress can call the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. It is available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, for free, in confidence. Call or text 988 to speak with a qualified counselor who can assist. Any emotional problem can be text messaged using Crisis Text Line. Text “HELLO” to 741741, and you’ll be in touch with a qualified crisis counselor. It is totally free, always open, and confidential.

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Tim McDuffey is a practicing attorney in the State of Missouri. Tim is a licensed member of the Missouri Bar and Missouri Bar Association.

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