17 Is Not Old Enough
Late yesterday I received a panic phone call from a therapeutic boarding school. They said that one of their students was on a family visit at a mall when the student bolted. The parents, of course, chased in pursuit of their own child and when they caught up to her they put hands on her. Attempting to restrain her and keep her safe a struggle ensued and the police got involved. The police took the student into custody, but told the parents they could not hold her and thought it best to release her under her own recognizance because she was 17 years old. The parents were left begging the officer not to do that because their daughter would go back to living on the streets as she had been in the past.
Why are we having this conversation, I thought? The statute is very clear in the State of GA. Parents are permitted to have custody of their child for the purpose of keeping them in school until their eighteenth birthday. The statute written in the GA Code of Law, Title § 39-1-1 states:
Age of legal majority; residence of persons in state for purpose of attending school
(a) The age of legal majority in this state is 18 years; until that age, all persons are minors.
(b) Nothing in this Code section shall be construed automatically to render an individual a resident of this state when that individual is in the state for the purpose of attending school. In the case of such individual, his residence will be considered to be the state in which his parents reside if under the laws of that state the individual would still be considered a minor and he is incapable of proving his emancipation.
The problem parents often face is that the law permits a 17 year old involved in the commission of a crime to be tried in a court of law as legal adult. So, the natural connection to make is: if they can be tried as an adult at 17, then they can make their own decisions regarding other legal matters at 17 years old, as well. Not so. Just because a 17 year old adolescent can be charged as an adult for a crime, does NOT mean your teenager can sign contracts for the purchase of a car, lease an apartment or decide if they want to attend wilderness.
So what happened to the student? The parents finally convinced the officer that their daughter was a danger to herself and they transported her to a local hospital. Since the school has Power of Attorney over the student the on-call doctor released the student back to the school and she was brought back to campus where she would be able to continue her academics, receive the therapy she needs and be safe.
If you have questions regarding the Age of Majority in your state or in the state in which your child attends school call us in the SafePassage offices: 770.667.7467 or contact your personal Family Law Attorney.
Parents should not have to argue to point of custodial guardianship with any local law enforcement; it should be clear in the minds of law enforcement. We will have that discussion another day.