What You Need to Know About Emergency Custody Orders

Child custody is one of the most difficult aspects of living apart from your co-parent. Differences of opinion over what is a healthy living environment for a child are common, but some of these differences can involve fundamental concerns over the child’s safety and well-being. In crisis situations, parents have the option to pursue emergency custody of their child. This can be a harrowing experience for everyone involved. Seeking an emergency custody order is a high-stakes situation, and you should, therefore, seek guidance from a child custody lawyer before taking action. 

What Is an Emergency Custody Order? 

An emergency custody order is a court order that grants temporary custody of a child to one parent or a third party due to urgent circumstances that pose an immediate threat to the well-being or physical safety of the child. Let’s break that down: 

  1. It is a court order. In other words, you must file a petition with the appropriate court and have the judge enter an order following a court hearing. People who are subject to the order can be found in contempt of court if they refuse to comply. 
  2. It awards temporary custody. You cannot use an emergency custody order to get full custody of your child on a permanent basis. 
  3. There must be an immediate threat. Reasonable minds may disagree over what may be considered “immediate,” but generally speaking, the threat must be imminent and actual. Potential dangers that may arise in the future do not qualify as immediate threats. 
  4. The child must be in danger. The child must be in danger of physical harm. Offensive conduct, uncomfortable living conditions, or inattention to the child’s needs will likely not be sufficient to warrant an emergency custody order. 

The process for obtaining an emergency custody order is intended to grant immediate protection to the child when appropriate. Whether you are the one filing or the responding party, the process will move quickly. In fact, emergency custody orders can be obtained ex parte, meaning without input from the other party. Whichever side you are on, you should consult with an experienced child custody lawyer before proceeding. 

Situations Where an Emergency Custody Order May Be Granted

The challenge in most emergency custody situations is determining what would be considered an emergency situation. In general, seeking an emergency custody order is appropriate in the following situations: 

  • The child is being physically or sexually abused
  • The child’s basic needs are being neglected
  • One parent is abusing drugs or alcohol to such an extent that the child’s safety is in jeopardy
  • One parent is threatening to relocate with the child without the consent of the court
  • The child is living in a hazardous environment where they are exposed to threats, violence, and other dangers

The party who is seeking emergency custody of the child must be able to prove that they have a legitimate basis for pursuing the order. The court will not rely solely upon their opinion that the child is in immediate danger. If you are facing an emergency custody situation, a child custody lawyer can help you prepare for what comes next. 

The Emergency Custody Hearing

As mentioned above, the emergency custody process moves quickly. Once you file your petition, the hearing will be scheduled within the next 24 hours. At the hearing, the judge will consider any evidence that you included with the petition, receive additional evidence, and hear testimony from the petitioner or other parties. The judge will consider a wide range of factors in making their decision, which may include the following: 

  • Whether the responding parent has a criminal record or a history of substance abuse or mental health issues
  • The impact of the stability and continuity of the child’s current living arrangements
  • Evidence of physical or emotional abuse or neglect
  • The immediacy and severity of the alleged threat

Again, the hearing may proceed without the other parent. This does not mean that the petitioner will automatically win as it would in other court proceedings. Because the petition is requesting the removal of the child from the custody of the other parent, the court will be very careful in making its decision. If you are considering pursuing an emergency custody hearing, working with a child custody lawyer is the best way to secure a successful outcome. 

What Happens After the Emergency Custody Hearing

If the petitioning parent is awarded emergency custody of the child, keep in mind that it is only temporary. Once the order is entered, the court will schedule a second hearing, which is supposed to happen within 14 days. The emergency custody order will remain in place until the second hearing. At that hearing, the other parent will have the opportunity to present their own evidence in opposition to the new custody arrangement. There are two possible outcomes: 

  1. If the court affirms its prior decision, the emergency custody order will be converted to a regular temporary custody order. This new custody order will likely come with stipulations, such as requiring that the situation be revisited after a certain period of time. 
  2. Custody will revert to the prior custody order if the court determines that the emergency custody order was ultimately unnecessary. This can be frustrating for both sides, but the court may have entered the emergency order out of caution for the child’s safety. 

As a result, it is important to be well-prepared for this second hearing, no matter which side you are on. If you are facing an upcoming custody hearing, a child custody lawyer can help you get ready. 

Talk to an Attorney at Seattle Divorce Services if You Are Involved in an Emergency Custody Situation

At Seattle Divorce Services, we empower our clients by helping them understand their options. Whatever side you are on, a child custody lawyer from our firm can help you understand your rights and advocate for you and your child’s interests. Call us today at 206-784-3049 or contact us online to schedule a consultation.