Serving Clients in Knox, Blount, Anderson, Loudon, Sevier & Roane Counties
Child Custody

Emergency Custody Petitions: What do I do if my child is in danger?

Obtaining legal relief through the court system is a notoriously slow process. What do you do if a child you love is in danger and every hour counts? Luckily, there is a process specifically designed for such circumstances, and it is possible in dire circumstances to legally remove a child from a dangerous situation within the span of a single day.

Step one is to file an emergency petition for custody. It is highly preferable to have an attorney prepare this petition for you, because getting the right information in front of the judge at this early stage can make or break your ability to quickly help the child. Most of the time, neither you nor your attorney will get to speak to the judge at this stage. The judge will instead look at the filed petition and decide whether to act based only on the information they find there.

If the judge signs an emergency order giving you custody, the battle to protect the child is won, at least for the short term. If the child is already with you, the order will give you the legal authority to keep them for the next few days. If the child is still in a dangerous situation with a parent, the judge may send police to retrieve the child from that parent and bring them to you. The judge will also call the Department of Children’s Services so that they can investigate what has happened to the child.

One thing an emergency custody order will always do is set a date for a hearing sometime within the next three days. This first hearing is called a “preliminary hearing.” The purpose of the preliminary hearing is to determine if there is probable cause to believe that the child might be being abused, neglected, or endangered in the defending parent’s care. Usually this gets waived by the defending parent. Even if the preliminary hearing is not waived, it is rare that the judge does not find probable cause. Whether or not the preliminary hearing is waived, the judge will take this time to appoint a Guardian ad Litem to represent the child and may also appoint a lawyer to represent the defending parent if they can’t afford one. Then, the judge will issue an “interim order” that gives the defending parent a list of tasks they must complete before obtaining custody of the child again. These tasks almost always include obtaining safe and stable housing, transportation, a legal source of income, and mental health or drug assessment and treatment. Depending on the situation, the judge might also order the defending parent to complete domestic violence classes, parenting classes, or other interventions tailored to the situation.

Asking the court for emergency custody is not something anyone should do lightly. But if the situation is truly dire and time is of the essence, having an attorney who knows this system is critical. If you’d like to speak to one of our attorneys, give us a call at (865) 637-6550 and ask for an immediate consultation regarding emergency custody.

This article was written and produced by Chelsea Price.