What Is an Emergency Custody Order?


Most child custody cases are handled on a non-urgent basis, where the parties involved in the case and the court hearing the case take their time to decide on the matter. However, there are situations where an emergency response or action is needed. 

Most child custody cases are handled on a non-urgent basis, where the parties involved in the case and the court hearing the case take their time to decide on the matter. However, there are situations where an emergency response or action is needed. 

An emergency custody order may be needed to protect the health and safety of the child. In some cases, it is needed while a permanent custody order is being established. Understanding emergency custody orders in family law can help you make informed decisions about cases related to custody. In this blog, we explore what an emergency custody order is, why it’s needed, and the laws and procedures for it.

What Does an Emergency Custody Order Entail?

An emergency order for custody is when there is an issue that can’t wait for a regular hearing. This is different from a temporary order, which is for issues that can wait for regular hearings but cannot wait until the end of the legal proceedings. An emergency custody order is typically only valid until the court renders a final custody order. When a court issues an order, you must follow it. If you are guilty of any violation, it can lead to legal consequences. If you are not sure which type of custody order you need, consult with an experienced family law attorney. 

Emergency Custody Order: Explained 

The top reason to get an emergency custody order is when there is immediate harm to the child’s safety, such as a threat to their physical or emotional well-being or a need for emergency medical treatment. The child may need an emergency change of custody as a result of severe neglect, serious physical harm, unsafe living conditions, sexual abuse, or any other condition or environment that is detrimental to the child’s health or safety. 

Another common reason to seek such an order is parental incapacity, where one of the parents is not able to provide adequate care to the child. For example, if one of the custodial parents is incarcerated then the other parent can seek an emergency custody order. In some cases, an emergency custody order is sought to prevent parental abduction, which refers to one parent taking the child without the consent of the custodial parent. 

The burden of proof for emergency child custody cases is on the party seeking the order. For example, if you are seeking an emergency order due to immediate danger or serious harm to a child, you must have proof of this. Commonly used proof for such cases includes medical records, reports from Child Protective Services, and witness statements. You can use any evidence that is admissible in court and can help strengthen your case. 

Photo of a Lonely Child

The Process of Obtaining an Emergency Custody Order

As is the case with most legal proceedings, your first step should be to assess the situation. Ideally, you want to involve a skilled family law attorney who can guide you on the merits of your case. However, the emergency nature of the situation may not allow enough time for you to get in touch with an attorney. In that case, you need to get in touch with the appropriate authorities, such as Child Protective Services or the police, who can provide the much-needed urgent intervention. 

While the situation might be urgent, you still need to have proof. This means that you need to gather evidence such as medical records, testimony from a law enforcement officer, or witness statements. Your attorney can help you gather evidence. Once you have the necessary documents, your attorney can file a petition with the appropriate court for an emergency custody order. The court may schedule an emergency hearing for the petition. As such cases are urgent, the emergency hearing is typically scheduled within a few days or hours depending on how serious the situation is. 

After reviewing the evidence, the judge will decide whether the petition is accepted or denied. If the judge feels the emergency custody order is needed, they will issue an order, detailing how long it will be valid for and other information. 

The other parties must be served a copy of the custody order so they are aware of all the new terms and conditions. The order might only be valid for a short period but it’s the right of all custodial individuals to know about any changes to the terms and conditions of the custody arrangement.

Factors Considered by the Court In Emergency Custody Cases

Taking an emergency decision on a custody order is challenging. The court will consider several factors before making this decision. As the nature of such a petition is urgent, the court will assess whether any immediate danger or risk warrants an emergency order. If they find there is no urgency, they likely won’t disrupt the existing custody arrangement.

Other factors that can influence the judge's decision include the child’s preference, history of domestic abuse, and availability of alternative caregivers. The court may assess the stability of care being offered to the child in the existing environment and if there is enough evidence to disrupt the child’s routine and relationships. For more information on the process for changing child custody or support orders in Pennsylvania, you can read our detailed blog post explaining the steps involved.

How Can an Attorney Help? 

Each jurisdiction handles emergency custody cases differently, and they can often get complex. It’s best to consult with an attorney to protect your rights and ensure the child’s best interests remain the top priority. An experienced and skilled attorney has access to resources that can help you gather evidence. In addition, their in-depth understanding of the applicable laws can offer expert guidance each step of the way. 

If you are interested in consulting with an experienced child custody lawyer, get in touch with us at Very Law. As a leading law firm focusing on family law, we are proud to have been successful in helping our clients through custody cases and emergency custody orders. With our knowledge and experience, we can provide you with the best legal support and guidance during these challenging times. For more information on custody options, you can read our blog page about Shared Custody vs. Sole Custody: Which is Right for Your Family?

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