It can be the worst-case scenario: You have reason to believe your child is either in danger, is being neglected to their detriment, or lives in an environment that’s harmful, or is at risk of being kidnapped from the state, against custody and visitation orders. There’s no time to lose. Filing for emergency custody is a critical step that can protect your child from harm and from being removed from the state. For the speediest action, it’s imperative to work with an experienced attorney who understands the local laws and what steps need to be taken. The attorney will also help you avoid pitfalls like making mistakes in the paperwork or providing too little evidence. Letting as little time elapse as possible is vital. Here’s what you need to know.

What Is a Temporary Emergency Custody Order?

The first step in Tennessee is to get a temporary emergency custody order. Unlike traditional custody hearings, a temporary emergency custody order can be done ex parte. That’s a legal term that means there’s no notice of the petition or hearing is sent to the other parents. That means that the other parent doesn’t have the opportunity to give their side of the story, and it also means that the court must review the emergency order within 15 days (which in legal terms is relatively speedy).

If the court grants the temporary emergency custody order, the parent requesting it is awarded custody until a formal court order comes down. This is the time when the other parent can present arguments and evidence of why they should be able to take custody back.

How Do Tennessee Courts Define an Unfit Parent?

For a change in custody, especially in an emergency situation, the court needs to agree that the parent from whom custody is being removed is losing custody because they’re unfit to parent, either temporarily or permanently. There are many situations that the court may deem unfit for parenting, including:

  • The custodial parent has abandoned the child.
  • The custodial parent has been physically, sexually, or emotionally abusive, or has neglected the child’s basic needs to the detriment of their day-to-day life.
  • The custodial parent has alcohol or drug issues that affect their ability to be a stable and supportive parent.
  • The custodial parent either has been convicted of a sexual offense, or they’ve been convicted of things that make them unable to care for the child, such as the need to serve a jail sentence.

What Do I Need to Provide to the Court When Filing for Emergency Custody?

Any evidence of the above situations can help the judge determine that the custodial parent is no longer fit or able to properly take care of the child. It’s also important to have a temporary parenting plan put together. This will outline how you plan to care for the child, including education, health care, socializing, and potential therapy and counseling if the child has been traumatized. The bottom line is demonstrating that you have thought this through and are more than ready and willing to take the child into your custody and care for them thoroughly.

Who Can File for Emergency Custody?

In Tennessee, either parent may file. In some cases, a non-parent who is aware of abuse or danger may also file for emergency custody. In fact, the person filing doesn’t necessarily need to know the child well. However, it’s usually someone close to the family, whether another family member or a close friend or neighbor.

Will the Child Automatically Be Placed with Me if the Court Agrees They Need to Be Removed from the Other Parent?

Usually, yes, but not always. If the judge is uncertain of the child’s overall safety, they may decide to place the child in state custody. That means the child may be moved to a shelter separate from either parent. At times, the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (DCS) may step in and find a temporary home for the child while the case continues through the courts. The adults in the temporary homes have to pass background checks and drug screens to be able to host children in these situations. DCS may also opt to place the child with another family member or family friend if they’re deemed suitable for temporary custody. If the other parent appears to be a kidnapping or flight risk, placing the child elsewhere may be more protective, even if it seems disruptive.

What Happens in an Emergency Custody Hearing?

The judge will have the final authority to determine emergency custody along with visitation rights by other family members. That includes visits not only in person but by phone or digitally. During the hearing, DCS caseworkers will report what they’ve learned about the situation. Before the hearing, the caseworkers may require the parents to undergo drug testing, educational programs, and interviews with the caseworker. Once the judge has heard the evidence and reports, they will make a decision based on what is in the best interests of the child.

What Should I Do if I Need to File for Emergency Custody?

Call me at 615-970-6448 to request an in-depth, no-obligation case evaluation as soon as possible. Cases in which the child is potentially in danger or may be removed from the state without permission need to be addressed immediately. I have experience and knowledge in handling emergency procedures, experience, and knowledge that are invaluable when time is of the essence. What’s more, I understand your fear and stress and want to help you solve this situation with the best outcomes possible.