Emergency custody hearings are essential for protecting the health and safety of children and it’s important to use these when the welfare of a child is in question. With nearly 50% of marriages ending in divorce custody orders are commonplace. Less common is the need to quickly amend these due to events and circumstances that could put the child in danger. When time is of the essence, obtaining an emergency custody order is required to legally, and quickly, remove the child from harm.
Understanding Emergency Custody Hearings
Emergency custody hearings are only intended to address urgent issues. They are not to address problems related to missed child support payments, etc. Emergency issues are those that present an imminent threat of danger to the child. These include drug use, sexual abuse, physical abuse, psychological abuse, neglect, and other actions that could injure, disable, or result in death.
When the circumstances meet the required criteria, individuals and their attorneys can petition the court for an emergency hearing to request changes to the custody arrangement. During the hearing, the judge will only discuss the reasons for the emergency petition and it is not possible to bring in other issues that are tangentially related to the primary threat. For instance, it’s not possible to argue that the non-payment of child support is related to the neglect of the child, etc.
Judges typically act quickly when it comes to emergency custody orders. They will thoroughly examine the circumstances and evidence presented and rule whether to grant a temporary order of custody. These temporary orders are not permanent but are generally sufficient in length to allow for a more extensive review of the situation and for a more permanent custody solution to be determined.
Evidence is Essential
It is not enough to suspect that there is a threat of imminent danger. It is essential to prove with evidence that the danger exists. Examples of evidence the court will review include photographs of bruising and other physical injuries, police reports, phone logs, text messages, eyewitness statements, counseling records, medical records, and other documentation that confirms the claims of abuse or neglect. In fact, it is best to gather as much evidence as possible so that the deck can be stacked in the child’s favor.
Dealing with Danger
Fast action is essential when a child’s safety is in question. At even the slightest hint of danger, parents should take swift action. Waiting can exacerbate the situation and could result in irreparable harm to the child.
If the divorce was amicable, it is best to attempt to discuss the situation with the ex-spouse/partner. For instance, if the danger has to do with something that can be controlled and stopped, such as potentially dangerous visitors to the home, the presence of a dangerous animal, etc.
Unfortunately, that is not often the case and many situations exist where two former spouses/partners cannot amicably find an effective resolution that ensures the child’s safety. Parents should not attempt to ignore existing custody orders without first discussing such action and potential consequences with legal counsel. This is very common in abusive situations where the child is scared or refuses to go to the other parent’s home during their allotted parenting time. In such situations, the best course of action is usually the immediate gathering of evidence that establishes the reasons and need for a temporary custody order.
From Temporary to Permanent Custody Order
After temporary custody orders are granted, a second trial will be held to determine the next steps. This requires the petitioning parent to present the evidence again, and it also provides the defending parent the chance to present their own proof and evidence to counter claims of abuse, assault, etc.
The judge can determine whether to remove the temporary order, revert to the old custody order, or replace it with a new custody order that removes the child from harm’s way.