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

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