How old do you have to be to move out in the US? | LegaMart Articles
A teen with a US flag as he move out in the US to a different home

How old do you have to be to move out in the US?


Home-leaving is an essential marker of the transition to adulthood and is typically framed as a personal choice. The transition to adulthood is a time of significant developmental changes that shape the nature and quality of young people’s lives in the future. Independence is regarded as an essential characteristic of adulthood. 

As a result, leaving the parental home and establishing an independent residence is an important milestone in the transition to adulthood. As teenagers push against the boundaries set by their parents, the teen years are fraught with angst and drama. Many people fantasise about living alone, or at the very least with the ‘cool family’ down the street. Most teenagers regard these as fantasies, while others feel compelled to leave.

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How old do you have to be to move out in the US?

A teen moving out of their home in the US

When a teen reaches the age of majority, they have the legal right to leave home. Except in the following states, the age of majority in most states is 18 years old:

  • The majority age in Alabama and Nebraska is 19.
  • The age of the majority in Mississippi is 21.

When a teen reaches the age of majority, he is legally responsible for his support and maintenance if he chooses to leave his parents’ home. If a teen is still in high school when he reaches the age of majority and continues to live with his parents, they are obligated to support him until he graduates.

According to the National Runaway Switchboard, 30% of teens run away for a variety of reasons, including:

  •  The dynamics of the family
  • A desire for greater freedom
  • Child maltreatment or neglect
  • Drug and alcohol abuse (either by the teens or their parents)
  • Sexual preference

Criteria for Runaway

A runaway is defined by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention as a child who meets one of the following criteria:

  • Leaves home without the permission of his parents or guardians and stays away overnight.
  •  Is 14 years old or younger, is away from home with the permission of his parent or guardian but chooses not to return and stays away one night.
  • Is 15 years of age or older, is away from home with the permission of his parent or guardian, but chooses not to return and stays away two nights.

The laws governing runaway teens differ from state to state. Running away from home is not a crime in most states, so the teen cannot be imprisoned, though he can be held in police custody until he can be returned to his family. In Michigan, for example, even though the legal age of majority is 18, the court has no jurisdiction to order a teen runaway under the age of 17 to return home, so the police are unlikely to intervene.

Running away is a status offence in some states, such as Texas. A judge may order the teen to return home, to be held in a detention centre until his parents can pick him up, or to be placed on probation.

Teens are considered homeless if they run away and are:

  •  Not found
  •  They live in a state where they cannot be returned to their parents forcibly.
  •  No placement in a youth home or detention facility

What if the teenager is abused?

Many teenagers flee their homes to avoid physical or emotional abuse. These teenagers are treated differently than those who flee simply because they want more freedom or dislike their parents’ rules.

Reasonable Motive

A teen is considered a runaway in Virginia, for example, if he leaves home ‘without reasonable cause’. As a result, a teen who ran away because he was physically abused would have reasonable cause to flee and would be classified as a child needing supervision rather than a runaway. Instead of being returned to their parents, the teen would be placed with another family member, an adult friend, or a foster or group home.

In Maine, the Department of Health and Human Services is contacted for all runaway cases, regardless of the reason. If DHSS believes that returning a child to his home would harm him, or if the teen refuses to return to his parents, DHSS can obtain temporary custody and place the teen with another family member, an adult friend, or in a foster or group home.

Of course, a teen who flees due to abuse must tell a trusted adult why he fled to avoid being forcibly returned to his parents. If you suspect a teen is being abused, call 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453). The teen (or a concerned third party) can also file a report with child protective services, who will investigate the allegations of abuse and, if necessary, remove the teen from his home.

A group of teen talking to each other

Teens have options other than fleeing or simply waiting until they are old enough to leave. 

Legal Emancipation

Emancipation is a legal process that allows a teenager to legally leave his parents’ home. The child is said to be emancipated from his parents in these cases. A teen can become legally emancipated from his parents in three ways:


When a teen marries, he may become legally emancipated.

Military Service

Enlistment in any armed forces branch results in a teen’s legal emancipation.

Court order

If the court determines that emancipation is in the best interests of the child, it may grant an order of emancipation.

Emancipation is difficult to obtain, but once granted, the child has the same legal rights and responsibilities as an adult, with a few exceptions. An emancipated teen’s parents are no longer required to provide financial or physical support to the teen.

Guardianship Transfer

A teen may be able to transfer legal guardianship from his parents to another adult. Guardianship can be either permanent or temporary (usually less than one year). Once appointed, the guardian will have the same rights and responsibilities as the parents regarding the teen’s care, including financial support. The parent’s rights are not completely terminated by the transfer of guardianship, and they may still be financially responsible for contributing to the teen’s care.

Transferring guardianship is simplest if both parents agree. If the teen’s parents do not consent, the proposed guardian must file a petition in court and demonstrate that it is in the best interests of the teen to be placed in the guardian’s care. The parents can contest guardianship in court, which could lead to a lengthy and drawn-out process.

Modification of Custody

In the case of a teen whose parents are divorced, the custody agreement may be modified so that he can live full-time with the non-custodial parent. If both parents agree, the process is as simple as filing a custody modification with the court. If everyone agrees, the judge will typically sign the order.

If neither parent agrees to the custody modification, the non-custodial parent must file a petition in court. For the judge to grant the modification, he must find that it is in the best interests of the teen.

State Variations

It is important to remember that state laws governing a teen’s right to leave home differ. There are distinctions in the:

  1. The majority age
  2. Whether and how he can achieve emancipation?
  3. How to appoint a third-party guardian?

Before taking action, it is important to consult with a licenced attorney who has dealt with similar issues.

Advice for a successful move

Tips include: 

  • Make sure you carefully explore your options before making a decision. Are you prepared to live on your own? Are you able to maintain yourself financially? Are you leaving for the appropriate reasons?
  • Create a realistic budget, and don’t forget to account for ‘hidden’ costs like the security deposit or bond for the property (often four weeks’ rent), utility connection fees, and home and belongings insurance.
  •  Talk to your flatmates and parents about your worries in an open and courteous manner to prevent miscommunications, hostilities, and arguments. Being able to get along with people requires both parties to be receptive to the other’s point of view.
  •  Keep in touch and discuss frequent home visits with your parents. For instance, plan a weekly Sunday night supper together.
  •   Figure out what constitutes appropriate behaviour. Most of the time, it is the behaviour rather than the person that offends (for example, swearing or smoking). In consideration for your parents, request that your roommate(s) behave appropriately when they visit and ask that they do the same for you.
  •  If necessary, ask for assistance; if circumstances warrant it, don’t be embarrassed to do so.


The teenage years are often fraught with conflict. However, leaving home is a drastic measure that should be used only as a last resort, except in child abuse cases. If you have a problem with a teen in your home, seek professional help from a licensed lawyer and counsellor who can help you try to mend the family relationship.

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