Protecting a Child's Interests in Custody Emergencies

In custody cases, the guiding principle of the court is always protecting the best interests of the child. For this reason, Pennsylvania law provides a way to immediately address any potential threats or serious issues. Called an Emergency Petition for Special Relief, the filing in essence: jumps your custody case to the front of the line and puts it before a judge. It's a powerful legal tool that can turn the tables in child custody cases at any stage of the process. But it's not to be used lightly.

A parent who seeks this extreme relief without good cause risks looking like the party who cried wolf in the eyes of the judge. This can ruin a parent's credibility as his or her custody case winds its way through the process.

As an attorney with Scaringi Law, I focus my practice on family law, divorce and child custody. As such, I am adept at knowing when and how to employ these powerful but uncommon emergency petitions, first to protect children and then to serve my clients.

Contact us to learn more about your legal options.

Recognizing Child Custody Emergencies

Let's explore some of the specific circumstances that can justifiably trigger an Emergency Petition for Special Relief, along with how this tool can alter the direction of child custody cases at any stage of the process:

The overriding mistake many parents make in pressing for an emergency petition when one is not warranted is misreading the basis for the filing. That basis is not when the parent's interests are at risk but when the child's interests are at risk.

Sometimes it's not easy for a parent to hear his or her attorney say the circumstances don't call for such drastic action. It is not enough for a parent to suspect or even anticipate a risk or danger in an emergency filing. Instead, the facts of the petition must be proved objectively.

Criteria Warranting an Emergency Petition for Special Relief

So what warrants an Emergency Petition for Special Relief in child custody cases? Certainly, any change in the other parent's domestic situation that can be shown to adversely affect the child is grounds for an emergency petition.

These circumstances include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • A parent who takes, or makes plans to take, a child to another state without permission.
  • A child who is physically or mentally abused, by the parent, the parent's significant other or any other person staying at, or with access to, the home, including other stepchildren.
  • A change in the livability of the dwelling, including the termination of utilities, recent storm or flood damage, or an eviction from the dwelling.
  • The lack of proper accommodations in the home that allow the child to study, sleep, eat and attend school, according to a regular schedule.

Emergency petitions can be used at any point in the custody process, even when the case is brand new and regardless of whether a court-approved custody arrangement is in place. Provided that the best interests of the child are truly at risk, a judge is always ready to listen and act to protect the child.

Secondary Impact of Emergency Petitions

This is the second powerful impact of emergency petitions:

Regardless of where your case is in the custody petition process, an emergency filing grounded in fact can catapult your case to the front of the line. This can place you and your child before a judge in a matter of days or weeks, rather than the months that the regular route can take.

In fact, as soon as the other party can be notified to appear in court and the judge's schedule accommodates, your emergency petition will be heard.

In cases of extreme and obvious danger, judges have been known to act even before a hearing is held. While this is rare, emergency petitions hold the power to generate swift court action in custody cases. In addition to speed, court action stemming from emergency petition filings can be sweeping in scope, altering the existing custody arrangement. This is done to benefit the child, but it also undoubtedly improves the custody case of the parent receiving emergency relief.

Effect of an Emergency Petition on the Parent

In some cases, one parent can be awarded primary physical custody - a major change that could remain in force for months until a new custody ruling can take effect through the normal process. This occurs because emergency petitions are always filed in conjunction with a standard custody petition that spells out the desired custody modifications being sought by the filing parent.

For the parent given primary custody as a result of an emergency petition, the court action definitely strengthens his or her overall case. It gives this parent the time and opportunity to prove why he or she should remain the primary custodian by demonstrating his or her parenting skills and producing a happy, flourishing child.

A successful emergency petition can be a custody case game-changer.

Speed, Scope, and Results

There you have it: Emergency petitions are powerful because they can deliver speed, custody-changing scope and case-changing results in a custody process that can be slow and painstaking.

By their very nature, emergency petitions are extraordinary court remedies that should be used only in rare cases where the facts bear out a legitimate risk to the best interests of the child.

When those conditions exist, it is time to act, and act fast.

Have questions about Emergency Petition for Special Relief or child custody in general?
Contact us at (717) 775-7195 to speak with an experienced Harrisburg Family Law attorney from Scaringi Law.

Related Pages


    • Please enter your first name.
    • Please enter your last name.
    • This isn't a valid phone number.
      Please enter your phone number.
    • This number is my:
    • Please make a selection.
    • This isn't a valid email address.
      Please enter your email address.
    • Please make a selection.
  • Please enter a message.
Put Us On Your Side