The Process to Obtain Temporary Custody

When circumstances require a decision about a child's custody be made immediately, you should file for temporary custody. The exact process varies depending on where you live, but typically follows the steps outlined below. You can complete the process on your own, but you may also want to consider hiring a family law attorney.

When Temporary Custody Might Be Needed

Temporary custody of your child can be granted by the court, as in the case of divorce or domestic violence. You can also grant custody to another person temporarily through an agreement due to financial problems, illness or other commitments.

  • Before divorce is final: Since divorce cases can take several months or more to be decided, you might want to file for temporary child custody until the final divorce settlement is reached. This is the most common reason for filing a request for temporary custody.
  • Domestic violence: The court might make a temporary custody arrangement to protect the child against the threat of abuse.
  • Financial difficulties: If you are unable to afford to care for your child, you can grant temporary guardianship to a trusted relative or friend.
  • Illness: If you are very ill or require hospitalization, you might give temporary custody to a friend or relative until you recover.
  • Conflicting responsibilities: If you have work-related travel or significant school responsibilities, you might ask a friend or relative to temporarily care for your child.

How to File for Temporary Custody

  • Find the appropriate family law court. With the exception of emergency situations where the child's safety is threatened or in other limited special situations, a court can only make custody decisions for children who have lived in the state for at least six months.
  • Complete the necessary forms. You can file for temporary custody along with your divorce petition as part of a request for a restraining order in most states, or as a separate court action. Check the court website or visit the court clerk's office to find out the specific forms required. In most states, you will need to file:
  1. an application for order to show cause
  2. a supporting declaration that relays your reasons for the request
  3. a proposed temporary order and
  4. a proof of service
  • Make at least two copies and file the forms with the court clerk. At that time, you will have to pay a filing fee, which might range from $35 to a few hundred dollars, or submit a request for a waiver of fees if you are unable to afford them.
  • Serve the court documents on the other parent. Hire a process server or ask someone at least 18 years of age to serve the documents. Be sure to follow the time limits noted on the forms.
  • Attend the court hearing. The court hearing will take place within days or weeks and will be short. Find out in advance if your judge will hear testimony; if yes, then consider bringing documents and witnesses that can support your reasons for why custody with you is in the child's best interest. Know what terms you are seeking and why you should have custody.

After Temporary Custody Is Granted

If the judge signs the temporary custody order that day then you will be given a copy before leaving court. Usually the order will be mailed to you after the clerk processes the document. The order will usually be in effect until the divorce is settled or both parties have reached an agreement on their own. The order might be in effect only until the next hearing date. Check the custody order for the expiration date.