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. Hello. I am 12. I have been adopted. My bio mom has always been my custodial parent. My bio father broke into our home and hurt her. She called the police and DHS took my sisters and me away. She didn’t feel she could keep us safe from him; so, she signed her rights away 5 yrs ago. She is doing good with her life and is remarried to a good person and has kids. My adoptive family doesn’t want me. They say very hurtful things to me all the time and the adopted dad pushes me down and tells me all the time to just run away and leave his house. I have left many times because he wouldn’t let me come home. Is it legal for me to go live with my bio mom? My bio dad died; so, he can’t hurt anyone. She’s a good person who loves me. She never had a DHS case open on us. She did a brave thing for us at the time. I can’t keep living this way. These people are scary and I need my family back.

    • Dear CP:

      It is always legal for you to protect yourself from abuse and to find shelter for yourself if you have been kicked out of your home, or if you are prevented from returning home by a parent. Therefore, you could seek shelter and refuge with your biological mom and let your adoptive parents know that you left because of their abuse and will get the police involved if they insist on your return.