How to File for Temporary Emergency Custody in Pennsylvania

By Patrick Gleeson, Ph. D., Registered Investment Adv ; Updated June 16, 2017
Woman with her arm around a boy, walking in a park

File a temporary emergency custody order when you need to get custody of a child as soon as possible. The process varies from county to county in Pennsylvania, so you'll need to visit the courthouse of the county where the child resides and file the forms that court requires. If you need immediate action by the court, it may be best to work with an experienced custody attorney.

Why File for Temporary Emergency Custody?

For any number of reasons, a noncustodial parent or other relative or guardian may determine that the child's welfare requires assuming custody. Often, these adverse situations develop quickly and require a fast resolution to protect the child. For example, the custodial parent may have been involved in one of the following circumstances:

  • Has been arrested and is being held in jail
  • Has abused the child 
  • Is a recovering addict who has relapsed
  • Has been severely injured or developed a major health problem

In situations such as these, you can't afford the time it would take to file a complaint and seek a final custody order, which could take months. You need to take action as soon as possible. That's when filing for temporary emergency custody is appropriate. It effectively jumps you to the head of the court's hearing line. In many instances, a judge will hear your emergency petition in a few days; it almost never takes more than a few weeks.

The Filing Process

Hiring an experience custody lawyer to take over the petitioning process is a great idea when you can afford it. However, fees may start at several hundred dollars and run upward. You may have to learn how to draft and file acceptable petitions and notify the custodial parent yourself.

Can You Afford the Filing Fee?

Court filing fees for emergency custody orders vary, but you may spend a few hundred dollars by the time you've completed the process. If you can't afford that, your first step is to file an In Forma Pauperis form, a form that asks the court to waive your filing fees because you can't afford them. Once you've completed the form, file it in your county courthouse's Office of Judicial Records.

The form has its own detailed instructions. It asks you to provide some basic information about your financial situation and to swear to the court you can't pay these fees. The court may then grant the request or may provide you with a hearing date where the judge asks for some additional information before granting your request.

Getting Help With Your Petition

In legal parlance, your emergency filing for temporary custody is a petition. Every court petition has its own specific form-filling and filing procedures, and they vary from county to county. To understand how to prepare the petition in your county, go to the "Custody Proceedings" page of the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania website (see Resources). Scroll down to the "County Courts" box and select the appropriate county from the menu. On that county's site, look for the section about self-help or self-representation to find out what's required for filing the petition in that county.

Filling Out the Temporary Emergency Custody Hearing Petition

Next, you'll need to get a copy of the form for filing an emergency custody hearing petition. How you get it and fill it out is slightly different in each county. In Adams County, for example, a self-help packet called "Obtaining a Custody Order" provides the forms you'll need, which include the petition and the service forms notifying the opposing party. Each form includes instructions for filling it out.

Filing the Form

Each county has very specific requirements regarding filing. The best way to fulfill these requirements is to bring your completed forms to the county clerk's office and to ask what filing help is available. The clerk will usually either help you through the process or direct you to that courthouse's self-help center. If not, consult with a legal aid and pro bono service in your county. In Adams County, for instance, 21 cities have organizations that offer legal aid and pro bono services.

About the Author

Patrick Gleeson received a doctorate in 18th century English literature at the University of Washington. He served as a professor of English at the University of Victoria and was head of freshman English at San Francisco State University. Gleeson is the director of technical publications for McClarie Group and manages an investment fund. He is a Registered Investment Advisor.