Q&A: Enforcing Restraining Orders

What is our church’s responsibility when presented with a restraining order?

Our church was recently presented with a copy of a restraining order from a member who expects us to enforce it. What are our responsibilities to enforce this restraining order? How far must we go and how do we handle privacy issues when all nursery volunteers have to be informed? We are often told this is confidential.

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.

Frank Sommerville is a both a CPA and attorney, and a longtime Editorial Advisor for Church Law & Tax.

This content is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is sold with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. "From a Declaration of Principles jointly adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations." Due to the nature of the U.S. legal system, laws and regulations constantly change. The editors encourage readers to carefully search the site for all content related to the topic of interest and consult qualified local counsel to verify the status of specific statutes, laws, regulations, and precedential court holdings.

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