You can file a temporary emergency custody order when you need to get custody of a child as soon as possible. The exact process can vary from county to county in Pennsylvania., but you must usually visit the courthouse in the county where the child resides and file the forms that court requires. It might be best to work with an experienced custody attorney if you need the court to take immediate action.
Why File for Temporary Emergency Custody?
A noncustodial parent or other relative or guardian might feel that the child's welfare requires assuming custody for any number of reasons. Often, these adverse situations develop quickly and require a fast resolution. The custodial parent might have been arrested and is being held in jail, or perhaps he's abusing the child. The parent might be a recovering addict who has suffered a relapse, or she might have been severely injured in an accident or otherwise have developed a major health problem that prevents her from caring for the child.
You can't afford the time it would take to file a complaint and seek a final custody order in situations such as these – that could potentially take months – and a permanent order might not even be necessary, so filing for temporary emergency custody would be appropriate. It effectively jumps you to the head of the court's hearing list. In many cases, a judge will hear your emergency petition within a few days. It almost never takes more than a few weeks.
Consider Hiring an Attorney
Hiring an experienced custody lawyer to take over the petitioning process is a great idea if you can afford it. Child custody issues are complicated, however. Fees can start as high as $3,000 to $4,000 and run upward for such a case. You might consult with a legal aid and pro bono service in your county for a cheaper option.
In Adams County, for instance, 21 cities have organizations that offer legal aid and pro bono services. Not all legal aid services handle family court matters, but many do in emergency situations involving domestic abuse. Bear in mind that there are usually strict income limits for these services. You won't qualify for help if you earn over a certain threshold.
Preparing the Petition Yourself
If all else fails, it's possible to prepare and file a petition yourself. The court staff can often give you forms and written instructions as to how to complete them, as well as on how to serve notice of your paperwork on the custodial parent.
To understand how to prepare the petition in your county, go to the "Custody Proceedings" page of the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania website. 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.
You must typically provide documented proof of the reason you're requesting temporary emergency custody.
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.
In almost all cases, you'll be notified of a hearing date when your petition is successfully filed.
Can You Afford the Filing Fee?
Court filing fees for emergency custody orders vary, but you might have to spend a few hundred dollars on this. If you can't afford that, you can file an In Forma Pauperis form, which asks the court to waive your filing fees because you don't have the money.
This 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. File the completed form with your county courthouse's Office of Judicial Records. The court will then either grant your request or it might provide you with a hearing date where the judge will ask for some additional information. Of course, it's also possible that the court will deny your request.