Filing for Emergency Child Custody in PA ─ What you Need to Know
April 1, 2021

Child custody cases are always handled with care due to their sensitive nature. When a parent files for emergency custody, the case is treated very seriously by the court.

Emergency custody orders are granted when a parent can prove that the child is in immediate danger or there is a real threat to their safety. In some instances, a parent can file for emergency child custody in PA when they themselves have been harmed.

What is Considered Grounds for Emergency Custody?

Emergency custody is deemed that because it is an emergency situation for the child/children involved, and the court will treat it as such. However, given its seriousness, a parent must be able to prove their allegations. Seeking emergency custody under false pretenses is viewed very poorly by the court. This can negatively impact any future custody ruling in your case.

Reasons for Emergency Custody Include:


  • Drug use or drug relapse by a parent

When a parent is using drugs or has relapsed, they may not be able to provide a safe and stable home environment for their child. Children can be exposed to dangerous situations, neglect, or abuse in these situations. Emergency custody may be necessary to ensure the child’s well-being and protection from harm.

  • Violent criminal charges 

If a parent has been charged with a violent crime, such as homicide, aggravated assault, terroristic threats, stalking, false imprisonment, or arson, it is important to consider emergency custody. The child’s safety may be at risk if they continue to live with that parent.

  • Custodial parent is in police custody or jail

If the custodial parent is in police custody or jail, emergency custody may be necessary to ensure the child’s well-being and to provide them with a safe and stable home environment.

  • Parent has taken the child/children to another state or country without the other parent’s permission

If one parent takes the child to another state or country without the other parent’s permission, it may be considered parental kidnapping. Emergency custody may be necessary to ensure the child’s safe return to their home state or country.

  • Presence of a sex offender around the child/children

If there is a sex offender in the household or around the child, emergency custody may be necessary to protect the child from harm and ensure their well-being.

  • Contempt of an existing custody order

If a parent is not following an existing custody order, emergency custody may be necessary to ensure that the child is not exposed to harmful or unstable situations.

  • Serious physical neglect

If a child is being physically neglected, such as not receiving proper nutrition or medical care, emergency custody may be necessary to ensure the child’s health and well-being.

  • Child abuse, including physical, mental, or sexual abuse or exploitation

If a child is being abused or exploited, emergency custody may be necessary to ensure the child’s safety and to protect them from further harm. This can include physical abuse, mental abuse such as emotional abuse, and sexual abuse or exploitation.

It is important to remember that emergency custody should only be sought in situations where there is a genuine and immediate threat to the child’s safety or well-being. It is also important to work with an experienced family law attorney who can guide you through the process and help you understand your rights and options.

How do I File for Emergency Custody?

Before filing for emergency custody, you should gather the appropriate documents to support your case. This could include police reports, medical and child protective services records, psychiatrist evaluations of the child/children, or proof of the other party’s convictions.

If you are unsure where you should file, you can contact the clerk of courts in your county. They can guide you and give you the best contact information to proceed.

Finally, if you don’t have an attorney to assist you, you may want to consider hiring one who is experienced in Pennsylvania family law.

How Fast Can an Emergency Custody Order be Granted?

An emergency hearing date will be determined once the court receives your petition. Since these cases involve the safety of a child, a court will hear the arguments as soon as possible. How quickly you see a judge varies county to county depending on the court calendar.

Once a ruling is made, it is important for you to know it is a temporary order. You will still have to go through the usual court procedures to establish further changes to the original custody agreement.

What Happens After Emergency Custody is Granted?

Once emergency custody has been granted, the child/children will be placed in the custody of the petitioning parent, relative or guardian. This should happen quickly and will stay this way until a full trial is complete or until further order of court.

During the full trial, the case will be reexamined, and the petitioning parent must present the supporting evidence that prompted the emergency order. This time the other parent will have the opportunity to defend themselves. Once the judge has heard all sides, a decision will be made in the best interest of the child.

Need an experienced child custody lawyer near Harrisburg, PA to help you through the often sensitive and complex challenges involved in child custody? Schedule a consultation today.

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