Understanding Emergency Custody in California

Serving Clients Throughout Sonoma, Mendocino, Lake, and Napa Counties

Despite the reasons, having a family breakup is both emotionally and physically challenging. It can become even more so when you need to fight for custody of a child because they are at risk.

Educate yourself in the emergency custody process to know what to expect. In California, the first step is to determine which kind of case is appropriate. Married persons can file a Petition for Dissolution or a Petition to Determine Custody and Support; unmarried persons usually file a Parentage Petition. Once the correct Petition is filed then it can be served on the other parent with the request for an emergency custody hearing. Some counties review the emergency requests without a hearing and some hold hearings on the same day, and then they issue temporary orders which are valid until the next hearing. Supporting your request with specific reasons why your requested orders are necessary is key to obtaining emergency orders so that the judge understands why the child or children would be in danger if the orders are not granted.

Your attorney will be there to guide you but having an understanding of what lies ahead will be a significant benefit. When you meet with your attorney, you can ask more specific questions about how your unique situation will be approached.

First Steps

Emergency custody hearings are only for when a child’s welfare or health is in jeopardy. If you are in the middle of a separation or a divorce, you and your spouse may disagree about a custody arrangement. For these situations, you would not seek an emergency custody order. Can you still seek legal representation to ensure your position is heard in front of a judge? Absolutely. But this would not be done with an emergency custody order.

Scenarios where you would need to seek an emergency custody order, for example, are in the instances of child abuse, drug addiction, the presence of a sex offender in the child’s home, or one parent refusing to let the other see the child.

To get a temporary emergency custody hearing, your attorney will file a petition because your issue is related to one of the aforementioned reasons.

What Do I Need?

Not only will you need to provide evidence to support your position, but you will also need the evidence pertinent to this particular hearing. For instance, anything you bring forward needs to apply to the emergency custody order you are seeking. This is not an opportunity to present an argument for custody unless it is relevant to your child being in danger.

The strongest types of evidence are sworn statements (made by either the child, the parent, or both), documents from child protective services, police reports, and medical records.


When one parent requests an emergency custody order the judge will often issue a temporary order the same or next day, and then set a hearing date. During the first hearing, the judge will see and hear any evidence that has been presented in the supporting declarations and in any opposition declaration filed by the other parent. These hearings happen pretty quickly so the judge may also set a mediation date and future hearings to review the temporary orders.

Ultimately, a judge can also issue a temporary order that will be in place for a specified period—or the temporary order will exist until a final order replaces it.

If you granted temporary custody of your child, understand that it is still temporary. In California, your temporary custody order will not be considered evidence at the trial. For example, a judge will not simply grant you custody based on you possessing a temporary custody order.

The evidence that was submitted during the hearing will get resubmitted at the trial. Circumstances may change as well. If one parent, for example, was ordered to attend counseling regarding mental health, then that same person can present documents saying that the issue brought up during the hearing no longer applies.

Carroll Law Office

We understand how important your children are. You expect the best legal counsel available when it comes to protecting them. At the Carroll Law Office, we are experienced Family Law attorneys who will listen to your individual needs and help you navigate the legal process during this difficult period of your life. To schedule a free initial consultation to see how we can best represent you, call 707-536-1156 or contact us.

Our Team Is Here

To Help You During Every Stage of Your Case

Request a Case Review

Fields Marked With An “*” Are Required

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.