Parties to a custody dispute often may feel that there are emergency circumstances which require the Court to make an immediate custody decision. These cases, thankfully, are rare, and petitioning the Court for an emergency Custody Order should not be done without consideration of what the Courts deem as an “emergency.” Although it is very tempting to petition the Court claiming emergency circumstances, you must be sure that the situation warrants emergency intervention, otherwise the Court may view you as an unreasonable parent from the very offset of your case.
As Doylestown, Bucks County custody lawyers, we help clients when they encounter emergency circumstances. Below you will find some examples of emergency circumstances which would warrant an emergency Court Order:
- Abuse of the minor child, or threats of abuse of the minor child;
- A parent absconding with the child to another jurisdiction;
- A parent withholding all custody from the other parent without justification;
- Severe alcohol or drug use by one of the parties;
- Incarceration of one of the parents.
Protection from Abuse (PFA) Orders in Bucks County Custody Cases
In circumstances of physical abuse of the minor child or threats of physical abuse of the minor child, a parent can file a Petition for a Protection from Abuse (PFA) Order with the Court. The Protection from Abuse (PFA) statute allows for an immediate emergency order to be entered by a local Magistrate or Common Pleas Judge that can include immediate restrictions such as evicting the abusing party from the house, prohibiting contact with a minor child, a Custody Order that supersedes any current Custody Order, relinquishing all firearms and weapons and prohibiting the abuser from possessing firearms or weapons.
After the petition is filed, you will appear before the Magistrate or Judge “ex parte” – that means without the other party present. You will testify under oath to the facts stated in your Petition, and the Magistrate or Judge will decide as to whether a Temporary Protection from Abuse Order should be granted. This Temporary Protection from Abuse Order will be in effect until the defendant can be served an order to appear at the final hearing. At the final hearing the defendant will have an opportunity to defend himself/herself against the accusations made in the Petition. Once a hearing is held, the Judge will enter an Order either granting or dismissing the petition for a final PFA Order. PFA Orders typically last for up to three years, but can be extended under certain circumstances.
To obtain a PFA Order, the abuse or threats of abuse must be physical in most cases. Mental abuse or criticism will typically not meet the standard for a PFA Order to be entered, even if directed at a minor child. However, these issues are important and applicable as well as very persuasive in obtaining or modifying an existing Custody Order. To obtain a PFA Order there must be actual physical abuse, threats of physical abuse or a reasonable fear of imminent serious bodily injury.
If you suspect abuse of your child, please contact our office to speak with one of our attorneys regarding your situation and whether a PFA filing would be appropriate. There are also resources available through the Court and private agencies to which we can refer you. If you are a witness to any abuse, you should contact the police immediately.
Emergency Custody Orders in Bucks County Custody Cases
Other emergency situations such as one parent absconding with the child or withholding all custody would warrant filing an emergency Custody Petition through the Court. Once the petition is filed, it will be forwarded to the Bucks County Master’s office on that day. The Master’s Office will review the petition, and if they deem it an emergency, an Order to appear for a custody conference and/or a hearing before a Court of Common Pleas Judge will be issued. This will usually be scheduled within one to two weeks. The Order to Appear must be properly served upon the opposing party. There are strict rules regarding how the Order must be served in order to be proper “service of process.” If the order to appear is not properly served, the Court will not hold a conference or a hearing and it will be rescheduled.
When the conference is held, the Master may schedule for you to appear before a Judge on that day if the circumstances warrant an Order being entered immediately. The Master may also schedule you for a hearing on another date, so that the Judge can decide the case on its merits.
If you have questions about emergency Custody Orders, Protection from Abuse matters, or proper service of process, please contact our office to schedule a consultation. Our Bucks County custody lawyers have offices in Doylestown and Newtown.