Is It Illegal to Live in an RV with a Child? [School-Aged Children Included]

You’ve made some major life decisions recently to downsize certain aspects of your life, including where you call home. You have an RV and you plan to start living out of it going forward. If you bring your child along, are you breaking any laws?

Generally speaking, it’s not illegal to live in an RV with a child. The only instance where it becomes illegal is if you live in an RV and do not enroll your child in any school. All children under 16 must be enrolled in an educational institution. Alternatively, you might decide to enroll your child in online classes or homeschool them.

In this article, we’ll talk further about the legality of living with a child full-time aboard an RV. We’ll also discuss how this living arrangement might affect child custody and whether a parent who lives in an RV is considered homeless. 

Disclaimer: This article is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not a substitute for legal advice. Please consult a licensed attorney in your state if you have questions or believe you have a legal situation.

Can You Live in an RV Legally with a Child?

Life in an RV can be so freeing. No longer do you have to worry about mortgage payments or monthly rent. You never have to stay in one place too long so you can finally fulfill your dreams of seeing the world. You want nothing more than to bring your child along for these adventures, but can you?

Yes! Throughout the United States, there are no laws barring parents–single or married–from living in an RV full-time with their children. That goes for other RV vehicles such as travel trailers and camper trailers as well. 

This sounds like good news, but it’s not quite so cut and dried.

The US has a compulsory education law that states that children must be in school between the ages of six and 16 years old. This law has been in place since at least the 19th century when child labor was quite common. 

If you have an older child who’s nearly 16, then you can wait until their 16th birthday and then start living in your RV with them. For kids over 16, the compulsory education law no longer applies. Even though the average high school student graduates when they’re 17 or 18 years old, legally, a child does not have to stay in school for that long.

What if your child is well under 16 years old? Does this mean you have to give up your plans of living in an RV together? Not necessarily. Your child is required by law to get an education, but that education doesn’t exclusively have to be in a classroom. They can take online classes or you can homeschool them in your RV. 

Can You Live in an RV Legally with a Child?

Exemptions to the Compulsory Education Law

In some instances, the compulsory education law doesn’t apply even to children under the age of 16. Here are the exemptions:

  • A child’s route to or from school is considered dangerous
  • The distance between the child’s home and school is outside of the statute-provided distance recommendations
  • The parent believes the class content goes against their religious beliefs
  • The child is physically and/or mentally disabled 
  • There’s an imminent threat to the child’s safety

The above exemptions are not guaranteed, but they do have the potential to hold up in a court of law. That’s less true of physical and/or mental disablement in a child though due to the prevalence of special education classes in many public and private schools. 

Can CPS Take Your Child Away for Living in an RV?

Child Protective Services or CPS is a US governmental agency that assesses situations alleged to involve child neglect and/or abuse. In certain states, the service is known as the department of social services or DSS as well as the department of children and family services or DCFS.

Let’s say your ex-spouse or partner becomes aware that you’re living in an RV with your child. If they feel concerned for the child’s safety and call CPS, what could happen? Would you lose your child?

Living in an RV alone is not enough for CPS to take your child away. However, if your child isn’t receiving proper care in the RV, that’s a different situation. 

Environmental dangers can gain the attention of CPS, and these dangers don’t always have to be firearms or drugs either. If your RV has recurrent pest infestations and is extremely filthy, then you could lose your child. Failing to provide sanitary facilities can also lead to the same, so make sure your RV has a usable bathroom.

Extreme neglect and abandonment is another reason why parents can lose their children to CPS. Failing to provide medical care, clothing, and food to a child counts as extreme neglect, especially if the child is malnourished. 

Does Living in an RV Affect Child Custody?

Perhaps it’s a recent divorce that inspired you to simplify your life and live in a home on wheels. Can this change in living situation affect your ability to win and retain child custody? 

It most certainly can.

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When awarding custody to a parent, a judge seeks to determine which of the two parents can provide for the best interests of the child. They’ll select the parent who lives in proximity to other family members, can maintain the child’s school and home routines, and will provide a stable living arrangement.

RV living can be stable in its own way, at least to you, but the judge might not agree. Thus, they could decide that your former spouse or partner is going to be the primary guardian of your child from now on. Coordinating your visits with your child would be difficult if you’re always traveling in your RV.

Let’s say that the custody battle already took place and you received primary custody of your child. You decide later to start living in your RV with your son or daughter. Your ex-spouse or partner brings up your new living arrangement to the judge. Now what?

No custody situation is permanent, as that would mean a child could be stuck in a dangerous situation. Living in an RV could cause you to lose primary child custody if you currently have it.  

Are You Considered Homeless if You Live in an RV?

Another factor that can work against you as you try to win child custody is how living in an RV is perceived by the law. No, we’re not talking about how legal it is, but whether you’re considered homeless by federal law.  

The 2010 edition of the United States Code, Title 42, The Public Health and Welfare, Chapter 19 – Homeless Assistance, Subchapter 1 – General Provisions, Section 11302 defines homelessness in the following way.

“(1) an individual or family who lacks a fixed regular and adequate nighttime residence; (2) an individual or family with a primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings, including a car, park, abandoned building, bus or train station, airport, or camping ground.”

The first definition seems somewhat applicable to your living situation, but admittedly a little murky. The second definition is far more pertinent. Although the code doesn’t mention RVs specifically, cars instead, in the eyes of the law, you might still be regarded as homeless.

It’s not just the United States Code that defines homelessness this way. The McKinney-Vento Homeless Intervention Act through the US Congress takes the definition one step further. According to the Act, homeless individuals include “children living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, or campgrounds due to a lack of alternative accommodations.”

That paints the picture crystal clear. Since many streets have parking laws prohibiting RVs from overnight parking, you likely camp out at trailer parks, store parking lots (like Walmart), or campgrounds since you’ve started living in your RV. Your children would meet the definition of homelessness per the McKinney-Vento description. 

Since this is federal law, it would apply no matter where in the country you lived. 

Are You Considered Homeless if You Live in an RV

The Implications of Being Homeless When Living in an RV

If living in an RV makes you homeless, what now? Well, for starters, winning a child custody battle would be next to impossible. Being homeless is not even slightly what’s in the best interest of a child. 

If you decided to enroll your child in public school, you would need a district liaison who will ensure your child gets into school and continues attending. 

Through the McKinney-Vento Act, you could even be eligible for financial benefits, which your liaison would inform you of as well. You don’t need to take advantage of these services, but they are there if your living situation became dire. 

Final Words

Living in an RV with your child is not inherently illegal, but it has a lot of challenges that might make you want to rethink it. If your child is under 16 years old, you need to figure out an alternate teaching arrangement for them such as homeschooling or online classes. 

The US might perceive your RV living situation as homelessness, which would make maintaining custody of your child very difficult. Only you can decide what’s best for you, but we hope the information in this article will help you make a sound choice for your child!

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