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What Is an Emergency Child Custody Order?

A typical child custody case may take up to a year, sometimes longer, to get settled in Pennsylvania; however, there are special cases where temporary custody can be granted immediately. If a child is being put at risk, in immediate physical danger, or about to be removed from the court’s jurisdiction, a petition for emergency custody can be filed. Situations include if one of the parents has had a drug relapse; or has been charged with a violent crime such as homicide, aggravated assault, terrorist threats, stalking, false imprisonment, or arson; or has been charged with contempt of an existing custody order.

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Who Can File for Emergency Custody?

Non-custodial parents, relatives, and guardians have the right to file for emergency custody if the custodial parent is unfit or a danger to the child. If you know a child is being abused or neglected, you have a duty to take immediate action. Find an experienced Montgomery County child custody lawyer, explain the situation to law enforcement, and provide whatever proof you can to support your claim.

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Convincing a Court to Issue an Emergency Custody Order

Emergency custody cases are difficult because they involve an act that contradicts regular rules of notice and due process. Court officials are generally reluctant to violate normal procedures, but when the safety of a child is at stake, extreme measures may be deemed necessary. For example, if a parent notices possible signs of physical abuse, such as burns or bruises, that she has reason to believe were caused when the child was with the other parent, this may convince the court to temporarily override the other parent’s visitation rights.

Getting immediate sole custody of a child is a drastic measure. That’s why you must convince a judge that the child is in imminent risk of danger. If the order is approved, the judge will grant temporary full custody to one parent while denying the other parent’s rights, until further information is gathered.

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What Constitutes Imminent Risk?

Your motion to establish emergency custody in Montgomery County must allege serious malfeasance on the part of the other parent, who would be denied rightful visitation. This may include the following risks to the child:

  • Bodily injury, sexual abuse, or death: The child is in an environment where he or she may be subjected to extreme harm due to the actions of the parent or someone else with whom the child may come into contact during the visitation.
  • Deprivation: The child is not being provided with basic living accommodations such as food and shelter.
  • Extreme emotional abuse: The child is being threatened, harassed, or verbally abused in an unacceptable manner.
  • Flight risk: There is reasonable cause to assume the parent will remove the child from their court-appointed jurisdiction without prior consent from the other parent or the court.

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How to File Emergency Custody in Pennsylvania

Seeking emergency custody should only be done if it is an absolute emergency. The courts take allegations of child abuse and neglect very seriously. Should a parent or relative file under false pretenses, he or she is likely to lose custody once the courts discover the deception.

If you are in a situation where you fear for your child’s safety around the other parent, follow the steps below to file an emergency custody order:

  • Step One: Figure out who to call. If you do not know what court handles family law or which jurisdiction you are in, please contact the clerk of courts for your county so they can provide all the contact information you will need.
  • Step Two: Gather the appropriate documentation to support your emergency custody claim. Examples include medical records, police reports, protective order proceedings, CPS records, child psychiatrist evaluations, and proof of the offending parent’s prior convictions, such as sex offenses.
  • Step Three: Get a lawyer to assist you in filling out and filing the petition. Things will run a lot smoother if an experienced Pennsylvania family law lawyer is handling your petition. The hearing will be "ex parte," meaning you do not have to notify the abusive parent that you are seeking emergency custody. You will also need identification paperwork for you and the child, along with the information supporting why you are seeking emergency custody. Once the court receives your petition, you will get your emergency hearing date.

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Information Required When Reporting Child Abuse or Neglect

In cases of suspected child abuse, it helps to keep a written log of the events as they occur, and you will want to be as specific as possible. The court will require the following information when a child abuse report is submitted:

  • The exact name, address, and telephone number of the parent, guardian, or custodian
  • The name of the alleged abuser and his/her relationship to the child
  • The current location of the child
  • The suspected injury
  • A detailed description of what you witnessed or what the child reported to you

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About Emergency Custody Rulings

It is important to understand that the emergency hearing rulings are temporary. Once emergency custody is granted, you still have to go through the normal back-and-forth process to change the final custody agreement. The emergency ruling is there to remove the child from a dangerous situation as soon as possible, and neglecting to follow through and permanently change the custody agreement could result in the child being placed back into the abusive parent’s home. Or, if you refuse to relinquish custody, cause you to be penalized for not following the custody agreement.

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Contact a Montgomery County, PA Family Lawyer Right Away

As parents, we do everything in our power to ensure that our kids are always safe. Protecting a child from his or her own parent introduces more challenges and the situation needs to be handled as efficiently as possible. Our Montgomery County emergency custody order lawyers at the Law Offices of Sheryl R. Rentz, P.C., can guide you through this process professionally.

Our team always provides options that are in the best interest of the child. We are equipped with over 25 years of family law experience and can answer any question you may have regarding emergency custody orders and child custody proceedings. Contact our office at (866) 488-6821 for a FREE consultation if you or someone you know feels a child may be in danger.

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