If a child’s health or safety is at risk in their current environment, parents or other interested parties can petition the court for emergency child custody. There are specific rules that apply to emergency custody.
At any time, parents, step-parents, or others can petition the court for custody of the child and must demonstrate their custody is in the best interests of the child. In an emergency situation, the standard is much different. If a child is being abused or neglected, a family member can intervene and petition the court for a temporary, safe home. This can be an alternative to placing a child in foster care.
Any person with significant connection to the child can be eligible to petition the court for emergency custody. That includes grandparents and other extended family members.
An emergency custody motion does not have to meet the jurisdiction requirements for a regular custody or visitation case. A petition for emergency custody can proceed so long as the child is in Virginia at the time of the petition. The child does not need to be a resident of the state.
The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act requires that states defer to any decisions made by the child’s home state family court. In emergency situations, another state may be able to temporarily modify an order.
In order to bring a successful emergency custody petition, a family member needs to demonstrate that the child is a victim of (or at risk of): physical or sexual abuse, abandonment, or neglect. The court can remove children from homes where the custodial parent is a substance abuser or convicted child molester, even if no abuse or neglect has yet occurred. Judges will make decisions on a case-by-case basis to determine whether an emergency or immediate risk to the child exists.
In order to apply for emergency custody, family members must fill out whatever paperwork is required by the local court. The hearings are expedited and may take place within a few days.
Sometimes, family members will make false accusations in order to obtain temporary custody of a child. The court requires parties to provide some credible evidence of a risk to the child. That could mean bringing the child’s medical records, police reports, abuse convictions, or other relevant proof.
An emergency custody motion can only accomplish one thing: removing a child from a harmful or dangerous environment. In order to obtain full custody of the child, the petitioner still needs to file for custody. The emergency order is only meant to be temporary. A full custody petition can only be brought in the child’s home state, which may or may not be Virginia.
If you feel your child is at risk of abuse or neglect by their custodial parent, you should contact a child custody attorney to discuss your options.