Ohio Laws on Harboring Teen Runaways

Young teenage girl standing alone on the street in the cold winter feeling anxious and abandoned
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Minors run away for various reasons, including abuse, neglect or simple defiance. There are some people who wish to help runaways by giving them a place to live, and while Ohio has no specific laws on the books regarding harboring a runaway, the adult helping the minor could face charges under other laws.

Defining a Runaway Child

A runaway is an individual under 18 years old who leaves home without their parent's or guardian’s permission, and even sometimes with their knowledge, who stays away from home overnight.

Most states do not consider running away a crime, but the guardian or parent of a runaway teen can sometimes face legal consequences. Adults who harbor runaways or encourage them to leave home can also face criminal charges from law enforcement agencies.

A minor can leave home for a number of reasons, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, including:

  • Family dynamics (divorce, foster care, remarriage, sibling issues).
  • Physical, emotional, sexual or verbal abuse and neglect.
  • Drug and alcohol abuse.
  • Suicidal behavior or thoughts.
  • Self-harm.
  • Mental health or medical conditions.
  • Sexual orientation or gender identity conflict.

Defining a Minor in Ohio

A minor is a child under 18 years of age who has support from a parent or guardian who is responsible for that child’s actions. A minor does not have the rights or responsibilities of an adult. A person who turns 18 and is still in high school is not considered a minor in Ohio.

While they have the same rights and responsibilities as an adult, they must still receive parental support until they graduate. However, a minor’s support may end earlier if they marry, enlist in the military, are deported or are emancipated through the court.

When a Parent Must Support a Minor

A minor's parent or legal guardian must support a minor until they turn 18 or beyond that age if the minor:

  • Still attends high school full time.
  • Is mentally or physically disabled and cannot support themselves.
  • Parents agree to support their child after age 18 in a separation agreement or decree.

Is Running Away Illegal in Ohio?

There are a few states where running away is a crime, but Ohio is not one of them. However in some states, including Ohio, it is a status offense, which means it is a noncriminal act that, if carried out by an adult, would not be an offense.

If the minor is a runaway for a specific reason like abuse, the court may remove them from their residence and provide services that include counseling or other assistance programs. Depending on a runaway’s circumstances, the court may require the minor to adhere to restrictions like a curfew or substance abuse testing.

Unruly Child vs. Delinquent Child

In Ohio, an unruly child is a minor who:

  • Does not submit to reasonable control of their parents or guardian as a result of being habitually disobedient or wayward.
  • Behaves in a way that endangers or injures their own morals or health or those of others.
  • Is repeatedly truant from school.
  • Violates a law that applies only to minors.

A delinquent child is a minor who commits an act that would be a crime if an adult committed it. A minor who has run away is generally considered to be unruly.

Contributing to the Delinquency or Unruliness of a Minor

A parent, guardian or stranger who contributes to the delinquency or unruliness of a minor is someone who:

  • Aids, abets, causes, contributes or encourages a minor or juvenile court ward to become unruly or delinquent.
  • Behaves in a way that causes the minor or juvenile court ward to become unruly or delinquent.
  • Behaves in a way that contributes to a minor’s adjudication as a delinquent child based on the minor’s violation of a court order as an unruly child for being habitually truant.

The adult in violation of this law faces a first-degree misdemeanor charge, with each day of violation counted as a separate offense.

Interference With Custody in Ohio

Interfering with child custody is a crime that occurs when an individual involved in a separation or divorce does not return the minor after their allotted time with that child is up.

It does not matter if the offending parent has custody or not. In other instances, the crime occurs when a family friend or relative refuses to return the minor to their parents. This law applies to:

  • Children under eighteen.
  • Mentally or physically handicapped persons under 21.
  • Persons committed by the court to an institution for abused, delinquent, dependent, neglected or unruly children.
  • Mentally ill person or one who has intellectual disabilities and has been committed by the court to an institution.

An individual who can prove that they were acting in a way to protect a child from danger by keeping custody of the minor instead of turning them over to their parents may not face charges of interference with custody. The Ohio court always attempts to make decisions in the minor’s best interest.

Penalties for Interference With Custody

If an individual is charged with interference with custody, they face a first-degree misdemeanor charge.

The charge becomes a third-degree misdemeanor if the victim has been committed by the court to an institution for abused, delinquent, dependent, neglected or unruly children, is a mentally ill person, or one who has intellectual disabilities and has been committed by the court to an institution.

If a minor is removed from Ohio, or the offender has a previous interference with custody conviction, they face a fifth-degree felony. If a minor suffers physical harm, the offender faces a fourth-degree felony.