When a church is presented with a court order by anyone, the church first must review the order to see if it is a party to the lawsuit. If the church is not a party to the lawsuit, it is not legally responsible for enforcing the court order. Churches frequently receive copies of court orders arising out of divorces or other family disputes, but rarely is a church a named party.
In any case, a church is responsible for the safekeeping of children left in the nursery. The church should use a system to identify the individuals authorized to pick up children from nursery. For example, some churches issue a “claim check” to parents as they drop off their children. Without the claim check, no one is authorized to pick up the children. Assuming this system is followed 100 percent of the time, the church does not need to worry that children will be picked up by unauthorized adults.
If an unauthorized adult attempts to pick up the children, the nursery workers should call the police immediately.
No law requires you to keep the court order secret. Indeed, it is a public record. The church may determine the amount and timing of information it shares with the nursery workers and the security team at the church. Under the ideal circumstances, the church wants to prevent the parents from entering any church building. I suggest that the security team be given the make and model of the cars driven by the parents, along with colors and the license plate numbers. If the car enters the parking lot, the security team can greet the car and determine whether the occupants have ulterior motives. If necessary, the security team may call the police. If the church has specific evidence that the parents may attempt to grab the children at church in violation of the court order, the church should put the local police department on notice prior to the weekend services.
In summary, the church is not responsible for enforcing most family related court orders but is responsible for safeguarding the children placed in the church’s care.
If the church is a named party to the court order, the church should immediately contact an attorney for further guidance.