CAN I LEGALLY MOVE OUT AT 17? AT 18?

Can I legally move out at 17? At 18? As a child custody attorney, I get some variant of this question a lot. Most of the time, it’s a question asked by a parent asking when a child gets to decide whom they live with after divorce. But once in a while, it comes as a question from a child who simply wants to “get out of Dodge.”

As is often the case, the answer depends upon the circumstances. If we’re dealing with custody of child who is not disabled, the Family Court will usually give children 16 years old and up the opportunity to give input into the decision, often on a sliding scale.[1] The older they are, the more the court will consider their opinion. But once the child turns 18, most courts will simply let the child decide. Eighteen years old is the age of automatic emancipation in Nevada—the “age of majority.”

Most often, when a child wants to decide to move out of their parents’ home, the question will become one of “who, if anyone, is going to take care of them?” The answer might be another relative or friend, or they might be able to simply live on their own. If a friend or relative is going to care for them, then a guardianship can be established in order to make sure that the world at large recognizes this non-parent’s role in the child’s life. For example, when children are in the care of a third party but need medical care, health care providers might not accept a non-parent’s directives.[2] Similarly, schools are loathe to allow non-parents (family or otherwise) to make educational decisions for a child absent a signed and notarized letter from one of the natural parents, or “Letters of Guardianship” issued by a court, granting that non-parent authority to act on behalf of the child.

But what if a child simply wants to move out on their own?

The answer then becomes one of “can they actually take care of themselves?” More often than not, a child’s internal angst is seemingly driving them to leave the nest early, but they are woefully unable to successfully do so. But the court will need to satisfy itself that the child will not become dependent upon the State for support.

Besides the legal “disabilities” imposed upon those under the age of 18 by NRS 129.010 (e.g. inability to enter into binding contracts), there are practical inabilities for a young person to survive on their own. They have to be able to work, to contract for their housing and utilities, and to pay their own bills. But they are still required to attend school until graduation (unless independently excused by early graduation or home schooling). And this says nothing of the emotional maturity required to survive independent of family, or the lost benefits of a healthy family dynamic.

That said, if a child is determined to emancipate, NRS 129.080–140 dictates how it happens. The child must be at least 16 years old and must petition the juvenile court for a “decree of emancipation.” Factors the court will consider include:

(a) whether the parents or guardian of the minor have consented to emancipation;

(b) Whether the minor is substantially able to support himself or herself without financial assistance;

(c) Whether the minor is sufficiently mature and knowledgeable to manage his or her affairs without the guidance of the minor’s parents or guardian; and

(d) Whether emancipation is in the best interest of the minor.[3]

Assuming the minor succeeds in obtaining the decree, then the reality of life kicks in. The emancipated minor is now considered an adult, except it does not change the age at which they can drink or gamble. They now can contract for all sorts of things, including debt and lawsuits. Per NRS 129.130:

     1. If the court determines that the petition should be granted, it shall enter a decree of emancipation.

    2. A decree so entered is conclusive and binding.

    3. Such a decree emancipates the minor for all purposes and removes the disability of minority of the minor insofar as that disability may affect:

       (a) The incurring of indebtedness or contractual obligations of any kind;

       (b) The litigation and settlement of controversies;

       (c) The acquiring, encumbering and conveying of property or any interest therein;

       (d) The consenting to medical, dental or psychiatric care without parental consent, knowledge or liability;

       (e) The enrolling in any school or college; and

       (f) The establishment of the minor’s own residence.

       —>For these purposes, the minor shall be considered in law as an adult, and any obligation the minor incurs is enforceable by and against the minor without regard                to his or her minority.

    4. Unless otherwise provided by the decree, the obligation of support otherwise owed a minor by his or her parent or guardian is terminated by the entry of the   

           decree.

    5. Except as otherwise provided in this section, a decree of emancipation does not affect the status of the minor for any purpose, including the applicability of any   

           provision of law which:

       (a) Prohibits the sale, purchase or consumption of intoxicating liquor to or by a person under the age of 21 years;

       (b) Prohibits gaming or employment in gaming by or of a person under the age of 21 years;

       (c) Restricts the ability to marry of a person under the age of 18 years;

       (d) Governs matters relating to referrals for delinquent acts or violations of NRS 392.040 to 392.125, inclusive, unless the minor has been certified for trial as an   

               adult pursuant to title 5 of NRS; or

       (e) Imposes penalties or regulates conduct according to the age of any person.

    6. A petition may be filed by any person or by any public agency to void a decree of emancipation on the following grounds:

       (a) The minor has become indigent and has insufficient means of support; or

       (b) The decree of emancipation was obtained by fraud, misrepresentation or the withholding of material information.

    7. The voiding of any decree of emancipation must not alter any contractual obligations or rights or any property rights or interests which arose during the period    

            that the decree was in effect.

So, whether it’s 16, 17, or 18 years old, the answer is “yes, you can legally move out of your parents’ home.” You’ll just be required to demonstrate that you can provide for yourself like any other adult, or you’ll be under the supervision of a guardian.


[1] For children with mental or developmental disabilities, the calculus changes. See e.g. NRS 129.010 and NRS 125B.110. It becomes much more of a case-by-case basis and determined by testing. I will leave these situations for a different article.

[2] See also NRS 129.030.

[3] NRS 129.120(4).