Navigating Emergency Child Custody Petitions

An emergency child custody hearing allows a parent to seek immediate modification of a child custody arrangement when they are able to prove that an existing arrangement places the child at risk. This article looks at how emergency child custody petitions work, and what you can do when you need to either file one yourself, or oppose one filed against you.

An emergency custody order is a kind of short-term ruling issued on an urgent basis by a family court, when a parent is able to establish how a custody arrangement currently in place puts the child at risk.

While emergency custody is usually only an alternative when a child is at risk of harm, in some cases, such a hearing may also be requested when one party finds it difficult to wait for a regular custody hearing.

Can you request emergency custody?

If your child faces a situation involving imminent risk, you wouldn’t have the luxury of waiting the weeks or months that it would normally take to request changes to an existing arrangement. If you foresee danger, your first option would be to try to informally seek a change of arrangements until things got better. If reaching out to the other parent in such a reasonable manner isn’t an option, you may ask your family law attorney to recommend you a child custody mediator. Such a professional may be able to sit both parties down and work things out.

If neither of these options is workable, however, you may appeal to the court on an emergency basis for modification under Family Code 3064. Your attorney should be able to advise you about whether the specifics of your case warrant an emergency child custody petition. Usually, these petitions are considered when you believe and are able to provide evidence that the other parent has been in trouble with the law, suffers from a mental disorder that places the child at risk, or places the child in an environment involving violence.

As unfair as it may seem, proof is a fundamental requirement of any emergency custody hearing. Email communications that offer proof of the problem, photographs, a police complaint about child abuse, and so on, are important to helping make emergency custody hearings productive.

You need to inform the other parent of your petition at least a day in advance, as well. A lawyer is able to review your petition for completeness and compliance with every rule, to avoid dismissal.

What if you are on the receiving end of an emergency child custody petition?

You may find yourself in a position where you need to defend yourself against an emergency child custody petition filed by the other parent. The law only requires that the other parent give you notice a day in advance.

A lawyer could help you put evidence and witnesses together to enable you to defend your custody rights. They should also be able to review the petition filed by the other parent to determine if dismissal could be sought for deficiencies in the legal formalities required.

They will, in addition, be able to thoroughly read through the substance of the allegations made, and work out ways of truthfully denying them.

Whether you need to file for emergency custody yourself, or need to oppose such a petition filed by the other parent, seeking the counsel of an experienced attorney should be your first step. You are at liberty to navigate the situation yourself, but an experienced lawyer should be able to help you find the most effective ways forward while avoiding costly mistakes.