LawRefs Customized Legal Information
Attorney Renee C. Walsh

Runaway to Iowa


“Hi, my girlfriend is 17. She feels like her parents mistreat her (and I agree) and are not allowing her to leave. My parents and I want her to come live with us until our apartment lease starts in August. I live in Iowa. Can differences in Michigan and Iowa law affect our plan? Could I get in trouble due to Iowa law despite the fact that she is leaving her parents in Michigan?”


In Iowa, it is an aggravated misdemeanor to harbor a runaway with the intent of allowing the runaway child to remain away from home against the wishes of the child’s parent, guardian, or custodian. Those who harbor a runaway could face civil liability for harboring the runaway child. A parent, guardian, or custodian of a runaway child has a right of action against a person who harbored the runaway child for expenses sustained in the search for the child, for damages sustained due to physical or emotional distress due to the absence of the child, and for punitive damages. See 710.8, 710.9 Iowa Law. However, in Michigan, a 17-year-old who leaves home will not be forced to return. See LawRefs article on Michigan 17-year-old runaways.

A person such as yourself whose girlfriend moves to Iowa of her own free will and without your assistance should not get into any trouble if you also cooperate with the authorities or the girlfriend’s parents should they become involved. If the authorities or parents did become involved, a 17-year-old in your girlfriend’s position would have a chance to request a hearing addressing the issue along with a court appointed attorney. See the Iowa Interstate Compact for Juveniles. A confidential discussion could include abuse or neglect by the parents, a petition for guardianship, and/or a petition for emancipation.


  1. I’m 17 and would like to move out. If I do move out, can my parents call the cops or am I considered an adult in Iowa? If the cops are called can I get into any serious trouble?

    • Dear Audrie:

      The Iowa Juvenile Justice Code Section 232.2 defines “child” as a person under age 18. A person who runs away could be considered a child in need of services and become subject to the court’s jurisdiction. If the “cops” were called, it is more likely that a teen such as yourself may receive “services” rather than getting into any “serious trouble”.

  2. I’m 17. My parents have Joint custody. My dad kicked me out of his house. He wants me to return but I refuse. F.O.C. is threatening to send my mom to jail if I don’t return. What happens if I run away? Will they still send her to jail? She is following the court order if she doesn’t know where I am.

    • Dear Marie:

      Your mom cannot force you to return if you are physically resisting. As long as a parent such as your mother does not interfere with the father’s custody by preventing phone calls or hiding the teen, the Friend of the Court should not be able to take any justified action. If the teen leaves the home, then the parent can do nothing about that and again, should not get into trouble. A parent who is so threatened should stand on their rights and insist that they have not broken any laws and will hire an attorney if necessary.

  3. I’m 16 and have started the emancipation process. My dad has custody of me and I live with him and his girlfriend. She has two sons of her own. I find myself getting grounded a lot for stupid things. (Once it was for doing my own load of laundry. I was grounded two weeks for that.) If her children do the same things they have no consequences. I recently got grounded for telling her the situation was unfair and I left and got grounded two weeks and had all of my privileges stripped. If I find a way to communicate with anyone outside of school, she takes it away immediately and adds a week onto my grounding. If the kids are grounded, they ignore her and keep all their freedoms anyway. She takes out her anger on me and grounds me all the time because she can’t ground them. My dad notices how unfair it is, and after this weekend, told me to move back in with my mom to get away from this. My question is, in Iowa, if I leave home to live with a safe family while the emancipation forms go through will they get in trouble, and will I be sent home?

    • Dear Gem:

      Iowa Code 710.8 makes it an aggravated misdemeanor crime to provide aid, support, or shelter to a person who is under age eighteen and who is voluntarily absent from the person’s home without the consent of the person’s parent, guardian, or custodian. Intent to allow the runaway child to remain away from home against the wishes of the child’s parent, guardian, or custodian, is required.

      Key elements of this crime are voluntariness and intent. It is not a crime if there is no intent to allow the runaway child to remain away from home against the wishes of the child’s parent, guardian, or custodian. Therefore, any adult who takes in a runaway must not conceal them and must cooperate in any investigation or inquiry in order to negate the illegal intent required in order to provide the basis for a charge.

      Consider winning your father’s favor for the decision. Afterall, he agrees that his wife treats you unfairly, yet will not enforce fair treatment (or maybe his hands are tied), and so you are arguably forced into the temporary move. Given such circumstances, it is incumbent upon your father to prevent any “trouble” from occurring, but rather there should be relief and appreciation for the new found temporary safe haven.

  4. Thank you for your response and help. One more question. My mom said she would file for emergency custody once I get there and let the police and my father know I was there if I went there. What happens if my father drives there to come get me?

    • Dear Unhappy:

      If you refuse to go home with him, or if you are unavailable, he will have a very difficult time bringing you home. He would be wasting his time to come and get you as you may just leave again.

      Your mother should be cooperative at all times. She should also file an Ex-Parte Motion for Temporary Custody and include allegations of mental abuse and neglect. She should argue that there has been a material change in your circumstances such that it is in your best interest to remain with her. By the time the issue is resolved, you will likely be 18.

      If he comes to get you, consider getting the police involved. Explain that you are mentally abused, that you do not want to go home, and that you have a safe residence with your mother who has filed an ex-parte motion for custody. Have your mother there. Make sure that a complaint is taken and that you receive a police report number.

  5. I am 17 yrs old and 4 months. My father has physical and legal custody of me but I want to go live with my mother. She is ok with this. She lives in California. If I leave NM to go be with her can she be in trouble? My step mom is always accusing me of doing things I didn’t do like stealing or leaving the house and threatening to send me away to another school. I was already sent away after I got on probation for 6 months after threatening her, in her eyes. I was there for 6 months and graduated but did not receive my GED cuz I failed some parts of the test. I am trying to get it now. I am not on probation anymore and do not want to go back to juvie. I was there for 2 weeks until I went to court to get my probation, which is what they threaten me anytime they are not happy with me. I feel like I am always walking on egg shells waiting for them to try to send me to juvie for something. I need to get out of here and live with my mom again like I did after they divorced.

    • Dear Unhappy:

      Your mother should not get into legal trouble if you leave on your own, freely and voluntarily. She also must cooperate if the authorities become involved and must not conceal you from your father. Odds are that due to your age, little will be done to assist your father in getting you back to NM.