Emergency Custody Hearings

If you’ve found your way to this page, you probably already know that, in most jurisdictions, it can take several months to get a hearing schedule on custody and visitation petitions with a juvenile court. In Chesapeake, for example, it takes 90 days for the court to review the petitions, and usually another 90 to get a hearing scheduled!

For most people, when they seek legal help, it’s because they’re at the end of their rope and they just don’t know how to proceed. Having to wait another 180 days for the court to have an available date on its docket probably seems insane. I’m used to it, and it still shocks me how long it can be between the time I do an intake and when we finally get to court. (And, in a custody case, our first appearance is just an opportunity to set a trial date, it’s not even a time when a final decision is rendered!)

So, yeah, obviously – it can take awhile, and, if you’re like most people facing a custody case, you don’t really feel like you have awhile to wait. After all, it’s your kids hanging in the balance!

So, what can you do? Can you get a hearing faster? What about an emergency hearing?

The title of this article may be a little misleading, but I’m going to lead here with a big truth. It’s virtually impossible to get an emergency hearing. It doesn’t happen often. Like, at all. In fact, in my years here, I can’t think of very many emergency custody hearings.

Most of the time, people tell me they need an emergency hearing for a non-emergent reason. For example: school enrollment, vacation issues, or holiday-related scheduling. Yeah, those things are not emergencies. I sometimes also hear about new jobs and relocations, but, again, that’s generally not considered an emergency.

Just because it’s time to enroll the kids in school and you don’t have an agreement about where to enroll them doesn’t constitute an emergency. Neither does the fact that you were recently hired for a new job that would require you to relocate. Generally speaking, when you have joint legal custody (as most parents do), it just means that you collaborate on three types of decisions: non emergency medical care, religious upbringing, and education. If you don’t agree, either you petition the court to determine the answer, or you make your decision and then wait for him to petition the court to ask you to stop doing whatever it is you’ve done that he doesn’t agree with.

What about domestic violence? Does that qualify you for an emergency hearing?

I’ve had a couple women ask me about emergency hearings when there’s domestic violence. It would probably depend entirely on the kind of domestic violence – obviously, violence that affects the child is going to be much, much more likely to get you an emergency hearing than violence between mom and dad that doesn’t affect the child.

Also, an emergency hearing might not be your only option… If domestic violence is an issue, you can always petition the court for a protective order. Those hearings tend to come up more quickly. If you go down to the magistrate’s office, you can generally get an emergency protective order in place pretty easily. To get a permanent one, though, you’d have to have a full hearing and offer your evidence to the judge.

If the child has been involved in the domestic violence, a child can be included on the protective order. In some of the cases I’ve done, the judge will even determine custody and visitation, at least on a temporary basis, while the protective order is in place and until the juvenile court can make a determination. If the child isn’t included in the protective order, many protective orders make specific conditions on visitation exchanges to protect the abused parent from the abuser (like, for example, to have a neutral third party exchange the child, rather than allowing the parties to meet).

What does it take to get an emergency hearing?

Abuse, mostly. Physical or sexual, probably, judging off of the cases I’ve seen. It has to be pretty egregious, and there has to be an immediate issue.

It’s not easy to get an emergency court hearing. It’s not easy to get a non-emergency hearing, either, given that it can take up to six months to even get a date for an initial appearance!

What are my other options?

If you’re not married to your child’s father, you may not have many! Custody and visitation, if you’re going to get it determined by the court, will have to be determined by the juvenile court.

If you’re married to your child’s father, it may be quicker to file for divorce! You can file and schedule a pendente lite hearing so that at least temporary child custody and child support can be determined. That may be a good option, depending on the other facts in your case.

It’s always a good idea to sit down with a Virginia divorce and custody attorney to get an idea of what might work in your unique case. Give our office a call at 757-425-5200 to get your confidential appointment scheduled today.

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