How to Get Emergency Custody of Children

In limited situations, the laws of all states permit a person the ability to obtain emergency custody of minor children, according to the American Bar Association Section of Family Law. Emergency custody is awarded by a judge on a temporary basis and usually without the benefit of a full hearing before the court. Part of the process of awarding a person emergency custody of children is scheduling a full hearing within a short time to permit all interested parties the chance to present their positions and evidence to the court.

A court awards emergency custody if the existing custodial arrangement poses a genuine threat to the welfare of children. (Image: Jupiterimages/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Step 1

Obtain a motion for emergency custody from the clerk of the court. The document likely is available from the court clerk's brick and mortar office or from a website maintained by the court. The form comes complete with instructions.

Step 2

Fill out the motion for emergency custody, following the guidelines provided by the court.

Step 3

Include specific information about the imminent threat to the children in the current custodial arrangement. For example, if the custodial parent is abusing mind-altering substances, the welfare of the children is at risk due to this conduct.

Step 4

Identify in the motion itself any witnesses to the circumstances surrounding your desire to obtain an emergency custody order.

Step 5

Insert language similar to:

"Unless an emergency custody order issues from this honorable court, the health, safety and welfare of the minor children is at immediate risk."

Step 6

Sign the motion for emergency custody in front of a notary public. The notary administers an oath through which you affirm that the allegations made in the motion are true and correct to the best of your knowledge and belief.

Step 7

File the motion with the clerk of the court. Mail or deliver the motion to the custodial parent or parents. The intent is not for this person or these persons to receive the motion before a judge issues an emergency custody order. Rather, the custodial parent or parents are entitled to this information as soon as possible.

Step 8

Ask the staff of the court clerk to provide you the name of the duty judge handling custody issues the day you arrive at the courthouse. The duty judge is the individual assigned to handle emergency matters, like your motion.

Step 9

Go to the office of the duty judge, with a copy of the motion for emergency custody.

Step 10

Present your case to the judge. Provided she believes an emergency exists, she will issue an appropriate order not only granting you emergency custody of the child but directing law enforcement or a representative of a social service agency to retrieve the children, if they are not already away from the party who had custody. The judge schedules a hearing on the custody matter within a couple of days during this meeting as well.


Seeking emergency custody of minor children is one of the most challenging types of family law matters. Consider hiring a lawyer with direct experience in this area of the law to represent you in such a matter. The American Bar Association maintains resources designed to assist you in finding and hiring a suitable lawyer.

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