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Attorney Renee C. Walsh

17-year-old Runaways: Not “Adults”, Not “Juveniles”, And Not “Children” – Michigan Law Leaves Parents Helpless

Wow, this is really interesting how Michigan laws treat 17-year-old runaways. They are not an “adult”, not a “juvenile” and also not a “child” under Michigan law. What are they then, and when they run away, can Michigan Law provide the authority for the parents to do anything?

Inquiry: “My 17-year-old has run away.

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They told me where they are going to be, and it is safe enough, but I want them home. What can I do?”

Response: If the 17-year-old runaway left a note, then they shouldn’t be reported “missing”. However, even if they’re whereabouts were unknown, unless they were in the company of another individual under circumstances indicating their physical safety may be in danger, and their disappearance is involuntary, an investigation is not required. See MCL 28.258(2)(b),(c). In the Inquiry, the person is not “missing” or in the company of another individual under circumstances indicating their physical safety may be in danger, nor is their absence involuntary, therefore, an investigation is not required.

It’s not illegal for a 17-year-old runaway to voluntarily leave home without parent permission. Since it isn’t against the law, there is no jurisdiction for the police to return the teen home just because they ran away. They can be returned home if they are in danger. If they are in an unsafe or unhealthy environment, Child Protective Services has the authority to conduct an investigation and may be able to take action.

Parents must still provide support. A problem for the parents is that under MCL 722.3, until the individual is age 18, the parents are obligated to support them unless the court has terminated the obligation somehow. Therefore, if a 17-year-old runaway leaves home, the parents are still obligated for support. As long as the basic necessities are being offered, generally, the parent has met their obligation.

Aiding a 17-year-old runaway is legal. MCL 722.151 prevents the aiding or abetting of juveniles, or harboring of runaways, but only applies to children under age 17.

Laws:
MCL 712A.2 – Juvenile Court only has jurisdiction for those under age 17.
MCL 722.822e – 17-year-old is not a “minor” according to the Juvenile Diversion Act.
MCL 722.52 – Age of Majority is 18.

There is a gap from age 17 to age 18 in the law for situations such as those of the hypothetical. It would take a very persuasive parent to get the police to do anything. The parent would have to insist that their 17-year-old runaway is in danger, document the request, and possibly threaten legal action if the police do nothing and the child is harmed. Generally speaking however, if a parent calls up the local police department and tells an officer that their 17-year-old has run away, the police will offer no assistance and do nothing.

Notably, in the 2011 case of Reardon v Midland Community Schools (E.D. Mich. Sept. 2, 2011), U.S. District Judge Thomas L. Ludington described the 17-year-old’s right as “autonomous”:

First, some brief attention needs to be given to Michigan law governing the obligation of parents to provide care and support to their children until the age of eighteen on the one hand, and yet, on the other hand, providing children the autonomous right to leave their parents’ home at the age of seventeen. See Mich. Comp. Laws §§ 712A.2(a)(2) & (3), 722.3, 722.151.”

Additional resources:
MI Tuition Incentive Program – Get paid to get your diploma or degree!
Affidavit of Parentage
MI Graduated Driver License A Guide for Parents
Illinois Runaway 705 ILCS 405; Illinois Runaway Wards
Missouri Runaway
New Jersey Runaway

If you are interested in finding out about your state’s laws regarding leaving home, please use your browser’s “Edit” menu and then “Find” to search within the comments below, or use LawRefs “search” / “Google custom search” option on each page.

Discussion:

  1. I am 17, and live in Wisconsin. My parents told me they no longer require me to live at home, but I was wondering, if I did move out, in more of a run away fashion, and moved into a safe house and what not, would my parents have anyway to force me to come home, would they have to provide for clothes etc, and how would be responsible to get me to school, or who would get in trouble if I didn’t go? Thanks.

    • Dear Riley:

      Don’t runaway. If you must leave, consider telling your parents that you are going to stay with a friend for awhile to have a break and get a change of perspective. Then, as time goes, you can feel your way through to the right decision(s). No matter where you are, your parents are supposed to provide for your food, shelter and clothing; however, if you reject those things by running away that is your choice. If you do not go to school, you and your parent could get into trouble.

      See Wisconsin Truancy Law.

  2. Hi my name is Daisy. I am 15 years old and I’m getting verbally and physically abused by my mother. My dad died Jan 27th. I have someone who I can move in with but he’s 23. I’m hoping that when I turn 17 I can move in with him. I just don’t want to get him in trouble. Can I do that or no. Because I feel like my mom would try to press charges against him.

    • Dear Daisy:

      If you are abused by your mother, please call the police and they will call CPS – or tell a counselor, school teacher or medical provider, and they will be required to call CPS. Don’t worry about what you are going to do when you are 17. Your mom will be able to call the police and report that you are in danger at any time and the police would be required to check on your welfare.

  3. 17 yr old daughter decided to move out, due to us being “mean”. (Told to keep her room clean, laundry done, and clean up after her small dog. Simple life skills that she has decided she’d rather move out that do). Question is, when/if she figures out that she wants to come back, do we legally have to? What is to stop her from coming back, week or so go by, moves out again, then wants to come back again?

    • Dear Mike:

      You have to provide food, shelter, and clothing for your daughter. If she rejects your support by leaving, that is not your fault. Next time she leaves, consider reporting her to police as a habitual runaway and out-of-control teen. Also consider letting the school know so that they can offer an at-risk program.

    • My son ran away over a month ago. I reported him, but because he is 17 the police can’t do anything. He has already been in trouble with the police and now I’m being contacted because he stole and got caught. That store should have called the police. They let him go, so now I have to pay for it — unfair to parents that children at age 17 can go out and run the streets and the police won’t do anything to help parents without control.

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