Can I get custody of my child now if he or she is in danger?
As family law attorneys based in Portland, Oregon, we talk to a lot of parents with safety concerns about the other parent’s home. We hear questions about how to get custody quickly, or change a parenting plan quickly if a child is not safe with the other parent.
The court can establish custody or parenting time in divorces, annulments, legal separations, modifications, custody actions, filiation actions, and third party custody cases. If custody is established in these cases at the time of the final hearing, it may take months between the filing of the petition or motion and the court’s final decision. But what do you do if a child is in danger now, and a full evidentiary hearing is months away? Oregon courts provide for an emergency remedy if a child is in immediate danger of harm.
Oregon courts can award emergency custody even if there is no previous custody determination between the parties. ORS 107.097 provides in part that “[a] court may enter ex parte a temporary order providing for the custody of, or parenting time with, a child if:
- (A) The party requesting an order is present in court and presents an affidavit alleging that the child is in immediate danger; and
- (B) The court finds, based on the facts presented in the party’s testimony and affidavit and in the testimony of the other party, if the other party is present, that the child is in immediate danger.”
Oregon courts can also award emergency custody even if there is already a custody judgment between the parties. ORS 107.139 provides in part that “[f]ollowing entry of a judgment, a court may enter ex parte a temporary order providing for the custody of, or parenting time with, a child if:
- (A) A parent of the child is present in court and presents an affidavit alleging that the child is in immediate danger;
- (B) The parent has made a good faith effort to confer with the other party regarding the purpose and time of this court appearance; and
- (C) The court finds by clear and convincing evidence, based on the facts presented in the parent’s testimony and affidavit and in the testimony of the other party, if the other party is present, that the child is in immediate danger.”
The main difference between the two provisions is that pre-judgment no notice is required; while post-judgment you must make a good faith effort to talk to the other party about the appearance. If the court grants an emergency motion, the non-moving party is entitled to a hearing. The issue at the hearing is limited to whether or not the child was in an immediate danger at the time the emergency order was issued.
If you already have a parenting plan, you need the court’s permission to change it. You cannot simply refuse to return a child in violation of the parenting plan. The consequences for refusing to follow parenting plans are serious, and can include jail time in some situations. The emergency custody statutes do not offer much guidance to the courts, and judges in the same courthouse can have different interpretations of what both “immediate” and “danger” mean. You should immediately consult with an experienced family lay attorney if you believe your child is in danger of harm with the other parent.