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Child Custody | Family

How Do I Get Emergency Custody?

7 min read
Francesca Toledo, J.D.

by Francesca Toledo, J.D.

In dire situations when a child needs help at once, you may petition for emergency custody. This is a much faster way to be granted legal custody of a child compared to the usual custody process.

You may obtain emergency child custody by petitioning the court and requesting temporary custody of a child who is in imminent danger. A judge will decide whether it is appropriate to grant custody, depending on the details of the case and the evidence provided.

While it may be tempting to take matters into your own hands and remove a child from a dangerous situation, that will legally backfire. Refusing to return a child without involving the court can result in serious repercussions. If you’re seeking assistance with emergency child custody, an unbundled lawyer can affordably help with limited aspects of your case, or provide full representation.

What is Emergency Child Custody?

Emergency child custody gives you custody of a child when emergencies arise involving the child’s well-being. A judge may grant emergency child custody when you present sufficient evidence that the child in question is in immediate physical or emotional danger or at risk in some way.

The judge will review your case before rendering a decision. Depending on the severity of the circumstances, the judge will accept or deny a petition right away or within a few days after an investigation.

An emergency custody hearing can be “ex-parte”, meaning it is sent directly to the judge and the opposing party does not receive any form of notification. Ex-parte proceedings are rare and only allowable under certain circumstances.

Once ordered by a judge, emergency child custody goes into effect immediately.

Reasons to Seek Emergency Child Custody

The purpose of emergency child custody is to ensure the child remains healthy and safe from harm. Various situations may justify seeking emergency child custody, including:

If a child is in danger, emergency child custody is the best answer to return a child to safety from a potentially disastrous situation. 

What Type of Custody Does Emergency Custody Provide?

An emergency custody order is always a temporary measure. It will never give you permanent custody on its own, but it can lead to permanent custody in the future.

There is no standard length of time for temporary emergency child custody orders. The judge may grant custody for a few days, or in most circumstances, until a more permanent decision can be made, keeping the child’s best interest as a top priority.

Due to the nature of emergency custody, returning the child to their other parent or guardian is unlikely during this time. They may still need to be consulted regarding major life decisions.

What Does the Process for Emergency Child Custody Look Like?

If you learn of a situation where a child’s safety or well-being is being threatened, you can request a hearing from a Family Court. To request a hearing, you can file a petition detailing your request and the relief sought, such as temporary custody.

All child custody issues are not typically resolved expeditiously, but emergency child custody hearings are unique. Upon filing your petition, the judge may decide to either schedule the emergency hearing to hear your case or grant the petition without a hearing, depending on the facts at hand. The judge may continue to schedule hearings until sufficient evidence is presented to grant or deny the request for emergency custody.

If the judge schedules a hearing for your case, you must be prepared to offer evidence to prove the child is in imminent danger. After considering all the evidence, the judge can then reach a decision.

Since emergency custody is not permanent, the judge will also schedule a hearing date in the future to involve the child’s other guardians and discuss the custody order.

What You Need to Prove to Get Emergency Custody

To obtain emergency custody, you need to provide information in your petition listing the reasons you believe the child is in immediate danger and harm. At an emergency custody hearing, the judge will want you to present your case with clear evidence, such as:

  • Medical records
  • Reports from child protective services
  • Police reports
  • Witness statements
  • Photos and videos
  • Text messages and emails

Evidence is crucial in emergency custody cases. This helps the court decide the validity and urgency of an issue presented.

In the event evidence is insufficient or lacking, the judge may determine more time is needed to investigate your claims. Since the issue involves a child’s safety, no judge takes these matters lightly. You can expect a judge to do their due diligence to get the answers they need to render the best possible decision for everyone involved, most especially the child.

What to Do After Being Granted Emergency Child Custody

After a judge has issued an emergency child custody order, the order goes into effect immediately and you can take custody of the child. However, that doesn’t mean the end of the situation. 

Once you get emergency temporary custody, the court will then issue the date for a follow-up hearing. The emergency temporary custody order will only be in effect until that date.

Hearings are set to provide the opposing party a chance to defend against the allegations and to tell their side of the story. It may be your responsibility to serve the opposing party with documentation, and provide notice of the emergency order along with an order to appear in court. If so, the court clerk will be able to assist you. You may hire a process server or have the sheriff deliver documentation to other parties in your case.

A hearing will provide the court with more context. Once the judge has heard both sides, they will decide on a child custody resolution. The judge may decide to leave things as they are or modify custody arrangements accordingly. 

Can You Get Custody of Someone Else’s Child?

Yes, in some cases, you may be able to get custody of a child even if they are not your own.

If you have concerns that a child is being abused or neglected, you can and should take immediate action. Start by reporting the situation to your local social services department. 

The court has the option of placing a child under temporary protective custody while it works to remedy their situation at home. While the child is under protective custody, the court can begin remedial measures, like sending the parents to alcohol or substance abuse rehabilitation. At times parents will be required to submit to drug tests, a parenting course, or anger management.

Temporary protective custody can be overwhelming and traumatic for a child. If you’d like to pursue emergency temporary custody, even if the child is not yours, you can do so by filing your petition and initiating the emergency child custody process with the court.

Do You Need a Lawyer for Emergency Custody?

You are not obligated to have an attorney for emergency custody cases. Nonetheless, in most cases, individuals who hire a family law attorney have a higher likelihood of obtaining their preferred outcome.

The state and local details of temporary custody orders are not straightforward, and any mistake during this important proceeding can have an impact. Handling a custody case on your own often proves to be more stressful than imagined, but a family law lawyer will be familiar with the process. They can handle multiple tasks related to emergency child custody cases, including:

  • Gathering the details of your situation
  • Drafting and filing the required documentation with the court
  • Compiling relevant evidence
  • Working with you to build your case
  • Representing you in court

Attorneys come with high price tags, and those costs can make legal help seem challenging to obtain. In that scenario, an unbundled lawyer may be the right choice for you. 

An unbundled lawyer is a traditionally-trained attorney who offers the option of pay-as-you-go services. Unlike lawyers that provide full legal representation from beginning to end, an unbundled lawyer will help whenever you decide you need them. Whether it is reviewing your draft of documents or representing you in court, an unbundled lawyer can give legal assistance for some tasks and delegate to you the rest.

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