We often don’t have an option; we are compelled to appear. We then need to make decisions regarding who we will handle our necessary responsibilities when we are called away, which includes childcare.
It may seem that the simplest solution is to bring our kids with us. Nevertheless, there are some very good reasons why we should think twice before doing so, since the court system is not designed to handle children.
While you should always check beforehand, it almost certain that there won’t be an outright prohibition or rule preventing you from bringing your child to court. However, there are many factors to consider beyond that simple right.
Factors to Consider When Bringing Kids to Court
First and foremost, the model behavior expected in a courtroom is respect and decorum. This means it is assumed that everyone in attendance will be under their best behavior. No one will move about unless it is required.
No one will speak unless asked to do so by the court. No one will talk out of turn or engage in any behavior that is less than respectful. No one will do anything to be a distraction. There is no allowance made for age or mental development. If this is the standard, is it possible that small child, let alone a baby can expect to behave with these expectations?
When a judge believes someone is acting in away to interfere with court proceedings he has the right to hold someone in contempt of court and punish them as he sees fit. This includes fines, removal from court or even jail time. The Judge is given wide discretion, meaning he basically can decide whatever he thinks is the best solution. There is no trial. The judge simply decides it occurs and makes his decision.
Most Courts would not have any issue with children quietly reading, coloring or playing a game (however most courts do not allow cell phones though, so don’t think you can necessarily have them play electronic games).
However, toys which make noise, loud games played with siblings, objects that can be thrown, anything that may be constantly chased after, all could cause problems and have the Judge stop the proceedings to address what would otherwise be kids being kids.
With an older child, there will be even less toleration for acting out in the courtroom. In a very recent case, not in Maryland, a judge held a teenager in contempt court when he was in the courtroom, not, and threw him into jail for thirty days, apparently for swearing. There was argument whether this was an overreaction. It didn’t stop the judge from taking the action.
If the child is making too much noise or is acting out, a Judge may order a parent and child to be removed from the courtroom for being a distraction and not allow them to return. Sometimes a parent may receive a warning about behavior, but it is not required. As stated earlier, a Judge has broad leeway in issuing citations, penalties and fines. If a child’s behavior ends up banning you both from the proceedings, it could obviously affect the outcome of your case.
What if you are needed in court because you have received a jury summons and not a specific request to attend a specific case? Even though it is possible that you might not even enter a court, it’s still not a good idea to bring your children along, even you are just waiting in a jury room. The Maryland State government website has this to say about bringing children when selected for a jury:
Child Care/Adult Care
No courthouse provides child care or elder care. Please, do not bring children or adults needing care with you. If you bring a child or adult needing care with you, you could be sanctioned by the court. https://mdcourts.gov/juryservice/atcourthouse
What this means that while you are in the court building if you need to provide care to your child that ends up interfering with the operation of normal judicial proceedings, you can be held in contempt of court. While the specific sanction is not specifically defined, because it’s up to the judge, it’s not something anyone will want to face.
Can a mother nursing or breastfeeding as an excuse from serving on a jury?
Eighteen states, but not Maryland, allow a mother to use breastfeeding as an excuse from jury duty. However, in the other thirty-two states, you could still be excused or struck from being impaneled on a jury because of personal concerns including breastfeeding, lack of daycare or other issues. However, you would still have to show up for jury duty to make that argument. Further, there is no guarantee that the request will be granted.
Even if behavior will not be a concern because of the children are older or you know your child is well-behaved, there may be other reasons that it might be inappropriate to have a child in a court.
If you are involved in a family law dispute (divorce, support or custody), emotions can often run high, with bitter accusations often being made by both parties. In addition, there simply maybe information or arguments that children should not be exposed to hearing in an open court proceeding. It will be the rare Judge who does not put a child’s interest first in family law proceedings and therefore question the need for having children present during a contentious legal matter.
Even if the case you are involved in doesn’t have drama attached to it, you cannot control what other people in the courtroom say or do. It is unlikely that your legal matter is the only one in the court room that day. The language and descriptions that are given by those testifying will not be censored. The courtroom is a place for dealing with crimes and disputes that are sometimes very violent, dark and terrible.
If you are a party to either a civil or a criminal case, you will need to give your attorney your full attention during proceedings to insure you are getting the best representation and insuring that your rights are protected. If you must devote part of your time to handling your children, you are likely to become distracted by your children and their needs.
You may miss testimony or statements made that are important to your case. You could be less prepared when it is your turn testify. Particularly if you are in court without an attorney (which is not recommended), a lapse in concentration could be particularly devastating.
If you are given advance notice of a court matter that you will need or want to attend, the best strategy is to start checking as soon as possible for alternative daycare options. Check with family, friends and others you could trust to provide care.
Many professional daycare centers have drop in services if you can provide necessary health records and contact information in advance of the date they are needed. Check with local places of worship to see if they have daycare facilities. If the court is distant from where you normally live and you have no friends or relatives in the area, consider calling the clerk for that court, explain your situation and see if they have any suggestions for reliable daycare. It is unlikely that you will be the first person to have this question.
If you have exhausted all potential alternatives other than bringing your children to legal proceedings, the court is more likely to be understanding of their presence and make greater allowances for misbehavior, especially if you explain your efforts to find alternatives.
What if a child is called as a witness?
Even then, their time in court should be limited to when they need to be there. There is usually space outside the courtroom or nearby where they can be until needed. Your attorney can notify the court where she/he is staying and have them just be on call till needed. In this situation you should try to make them comfortable and understand that all that is asked of them is to tell the truth. Let them know how proud you are of them for playing a part in a court matter.
Ultimately in all legal matters, it is important to rely on the advice of your attorney to best decide how to handle your case. Ask them directly what they think about the presence of your children in court. They almost certainly will advise you not have your children there Discuss any concerns and any reasons you may feel it necessary to have your children there. Your lawyer will still probably be reluctant to have to have your children present, but he cannot force you to do anything you do not wish to do.
The truth is that under most circumstances, bringing your children to court will not be the best alternative for them, for you or for efficiently run court proceedings. Do you best to look for other solutions.