How to File for Emergency Custody in Tennessee

October 10, 2023

What is the Process for Obtaining Emergency Custody in Tennessee?

Co-parenting during divorce proceedings or after a divorce has been finalized is often a challenging balancing act that can be emotionally draining. Disagreements over what actions are in your child’s best interests are not uncommon and often require mediation or a ruling from the court to resolve. But what can you do in the worst-case scenario if you believe your child is in immediate danger of harm and it isn’t feasible to wait weeks or months for your custody case to conclude?

Filing for emergency custody is an option that can protect your child until you are able to get a long-term custody plan implemented. However, you must prove that the situation warrants the drastic step of temporarily removing the other parent’s custody rights. An experienced Nashville child custody lawyer can explain when this action may be required and how to petition for emergency custody.

How Does Emergency Custody Differ From a Temporary Custody Plan?

Establishing a permanent parenting plan after a divorce can be a lengthy process. Temporary custody plans are usually put in place to ensure a stable environment for the child while the divorce process is ongoing. An interim plan may be amicably agreed upon by both parents and submitted to the court for approval, or each parent may present their own proposal to a judge who will put in place the temporary plan they believe represents the child’s best interests. Usually, Judge’s like to maintain a status quo, or normal routine for a child when possible.

In contrast, emergency custody is typically made “ex parte.” This means the other parent is not notified of the proceedings, and the court bases its decision solely on the petitioning parent’s sworn information. Ex parte orders are usually made rapidly but are only used in dire situations when there are no other viable legal options. If emergency custody is granted, the court must review the ruling at hearing within a short time. The other parent must be informed of this hearing so they have an opportunity to present their side of the case. The judge will either extend the order or rescind it after the hearing.

What Situations May Justify Emergency Custody?

For a court to approve a request for emergency custody in Tennessee, the petitioning parent must demonstrate through sufficient evidence that the current custody arrangement is endangering the safety or well-being of the child. Emergency custody may be necessary if the other parent is:

  • Physically, emotionally, or sexually abusive to the child.
  • Likely to remove the child from the state against current custody orders.
  • Accused of willful abandonment of the child.
  • Experiencing a drug or alcohol addiction or a severe mental health issue.
  • Convicted of a criminal sexual offense.
  • Incarcerated for a crime.
  • Unable to care for the child’s needs.

Many emergency custody orders arise from valid concerns about the other parent’s harmful behaviors, but not all cases are related to injurious or neglectful actions. Emergency custody orders may also be necessary if the individual with primary parenting responsibilities experiences a serious injury or other life-altering circumstance that prevents them from fulfilling their parenting duties.

Who Can File For Emergency Custody?

Either parent may petition for emergency custody in Tennessee. Other individuals who are close to the child and suspect they are suffering from abuse, neglect, or poor living conditions can also begin emergency custody proceedings. These third parties may be family members, social workers, or law enforcement personnel.

How Do You Petition For Emergency Custody?

You must formally petition the court to change custody, along with a request for emergency change of temporary custody based upon danger to the child. In some cases where the parents have never been married, this involves filing a Petition for Order of Protection on behalf of your child(ren) that you believe may be in danger. On page four of the petition, you may request temporary emergency custody. Shortly after filing the petition, you will need to appear at a scheduled hearing to present your supporting evidence to the judge for why a custody change is required. 

It can be very frightening and overwhelming if you are a parent worried for your child’s safety. A skilled protection orders attorney can help you navigate filing your emergency custody petition, gather proof, draft a new temporary custody plan, and represent you and your child’s interests at all hearings. 

Am I Guaranteed to Receive Custody if I File For Emergency Custody?

Ultimately, the details of an emergency custody order are entirely at the discretion of the court. The judge has a duty to act in the best interests of the child in all cases. While it is typical for the petitioning parent to receive temporary custody if the emergency request is approved, it is not a guaranteed outcome. It is possible that neither parent will be granted custody, and the child will be placed with another family member or in an approved temporary home. Although this may be frustrating for the petitioning parent, it may be necessary to protect the child’s safety, particularly if there is a risk of the other parent kidnapping or physically harming them if they were alerted to their location. If you have questions or concerns about potential outcomes in your emergency custody case, it is vital to consult with a knowledgeable lawyer who can assist you.

How Can Our Law Firm Help?

As a parent, the welfare of your child is your primary concern. Brighter Day Law offers experienced, compassionate legal guidance to divorcing parents throughout the custody process and beyond. If you are concerned that your child may be in danger in their current custody situation, contact our Nashville family law office today at 615-437-8808 to speak with our client care team and learn about your legal options.

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