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At some point in your child’s life, parents will face the decision on whether he or she can be left home alone for a short period of time. It might just be a quick trip to the store down the street, where you know you will only be gone a few minutes. However, thornier questions arise when you think about heading off to work or a longer time away. Fortunately, Maryland is one of just a few US states that establishes a bright line test: According to state family laws, it is unlawful to allow a child under 8 years old home alone if you are charged with caring for them. You could face a misdemeanor, which is punishable by fines and jail time if you are convicted.
As a parent, the prospect of jail time is probably not the reason you hesitate to leave your child alone. You have a legal obligation to protect your child under Maryland family law, and age is not the only defining factor. It is wise to consult with an Owings Mills family law attorney about your circumstances, and some background information is helpful.
Maryland Laws on Unattended Children
To expand upon the description of the statute, you should note a few qualifying details:
- Besides leaving them at home alone, it is also illegal to confine a child under 8 in any other building or motor vehicle.
- You are not in violation of the law if the dwelling, building, or vehicle is within your sight. In other words, it is OK to leave a child in the car while pumping gas but when heading into the grocery store.
- It is sufficient to leave a child under 8 years old at home alone if you provide a reliable individual at least 13 years old to remain for protection. For families who rely on their older children and responsible teens for babysitting, you will not have to worry about breaking the law.
Guidelines for Parents
The bright line age test notwithstanding, many parents are not as concerned about criminal charges as they are their child’s safety. The statutory requirements tell you what to do to protect yourself from being arrested. They do not help you make a decision when you have doubts having nothing to do with age. Instead, some guidelines from child protective agencies may be useful. Especially since they are used in states that do not have a statute similar to Maryland’s:
- 8- to 10-year-olds may be alone for more than 1.5 hours during daylight hours.
- By 11 to 12 years old, children can be unsupervised for up to three hours, but not late at night.
- 13- to 15-year-olds can be allowed alone at home for any period, except overnight.
Consult With a Maryland Family Law Attorney for More Information
If you have additional questions about the legality of leaving your child home alone, please contact the Law Office of William F. Mulroney for answers. Individuals in Baltimore County and the surrounding area can call (443) 352-8433 or go online to schedule a free consultation.