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I'm 17: can I leave school and move in with my boyfriend now?

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worried101 asks:

I know this isn't a question about sex, but I don't have anyone else to ask and I cant find the answer anywhere else. My question: I am 17, 67 days away from being 18, and I want to live with my boyfriend instead who is 24. I have a job that I have been at since January, and I have a car that is in my name and my moms name. I am still in high school, but I want to drop out and get my GED. If I get my GED can I leave my mom's house? Is there anything she can legally do to stop me or keep me in her house? Thanks so much for your time.

Heather Corinna replies:

In terms of the legality of things, you didn't tell me where you were, so this all depends a whole lot on that. If you're in the U.S., though, it is NOT likely legal for you to move out of your house without first becoming an emancipated minor, which usually has quite a few requirements, one of which is often proving you can still go to school and complete your education. Given the age of your boyfriend (and also dependent on what the age of consent is in your area), in a worst-case scenario, he could wind up charged with kidnapping or sex offender crimes if you moved in with him before it was legal for you to do so. Per your car, if it is in both of your names, that can be an issue until one of you switches the title over to the other.

You also cannot get your GED until you are 18.

So, your best best is to contact a lawyer and find out what your rights and options are for your specific location. In the states, this website -- http://www.lawhelp.org/ -- offers listings for legal aid resources for every state if you need free or low cost legal advice.

If I can give you some advice, though? A GED is rarely treated the same way, by colleges or employers, that actually finishing high school and getting a diploma is. I'd strongly encourage you to figure out how to finish school, especially since you're so close to doing so already. I understand difficult home situations, as well as wanting to live with a partner, but not finishing school is something that can impact and change your whole life. There's really no reason there can't be a way for you to BOTH get a fix on your living situation AND finish school. The boyfriend may stick around for a while, or, more typically with younger relationships, things may dissipate in time. But what you do with your education now is something that can impact your whole life FOR your whole life.

It's also one thing if you're experiencing abuse or serious family problems in your home, and another if you just want to move in with the boyfriend. If it's just about moving in with him, eight months really is a very short period of time, and one you can easily wait through to really take care of school, leave home free and clear legally, and avoid this becoming a big drama. There's just no sense in turning what could be a positive experience into a negative one, you know? Why start cohabitating -- which is always a challenge, even for couples who are great together -- with extra challenges when you don't have to?

Lastly? Not knowing all of what this is about, and understanding that what I say may or may not be something you want to hear, if this is about your Mom not liking the boyfriend, do yourself a favor and don't dismiss that entirely too hastily. If she is the ONLY close, trusted person in your life who you know cares for you who dislikes him or has big doubts, you can safely give it a bit less merit, but often enough, even when it doesn't seem like it, parents can separate issues of control or ownership with determining whether or not someone is so great for their kids to be around, especially since they're not the ones in love with that person.

And in the case that this is about abuse or maltreatment in your current home, you should also at least consider going through the proper channels to address it so that you don't just screw yourself needlessly. You can certainly always call social services just to see what they say before you make a report, but going through those channels, even though it's not so easy, can often put you in a better position than trying to skirt them will.

written 30 Oct 2007 . updated 27 Apr 2008

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