Sometimes in these pages we joke around a bit, get a little weird, or push a few buttons. Yet one area is always off-limits to those attitudes: children. Virginia’s children are among the most helpless, fragile and innocent among us. Virginia’s adults, and even more so Virginia’s attorneys, have a high calling to protect Virginia’s kids. Emergency custody hearings are one way the state and the legal community can do that.
In Virginia, after a divorce or when the custody of a child is in dispute, Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Courts will hear arguments from all interested parties:
- A guardian ad litem representing the child
- The custodial parent and that parent’s attorney
- Non-custodial parties (the other parent, grandparents, or other relatives, and their attorneys)
- Unbiased professionals (psychiatrists, medical doctors, social workers, and representatives of Virginia’s Child Protective Services, CPS)
Normally, this hearing takes place in a deliberative manner, with plenty of advance notice for all to gather and be heard. Sometimes, though, the needs of the child are so important that an emergency custody hearing must be called.
Emergency Custody Hearings
For anyone running for political office in Virginia, § 20-146.15 of Chapter 7.1 of the Code of Virginia is a grim reminder that politics is not all chicken dinners and ribbon cuttings. That section of our state laws outlines how the state itself can take emergency measures to protect Virginia’s children.
If the custodial parent of your children, for example, abandons them, the state will step in. If the custodial parent harms or threatens to harm your children, the state will step in.
This is the sad duty of our legislators; Virginia’s children do indeed face mistreatment, neglect and abuse from custodial parents. When that happens, an emergency custody hearing can be called to make drastic changes to custody arrangements.
Just about any interested citizen can, through a court motion, call for an emergency custody hearing:
- Adult aunts, uncles, cousins
- Friends of the family
- Older, adult siblings
- Parents without physical custody rights
The process begins with bringing a motion for an emergency child custody hearing to a Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court. This may also happen through CPS.
What Qualifies for an Emergency Child Custody Hearing?
For an emergency child custody hearing to take place, the child must be perceived “by a reasonable person” to be:
- In immediate danger of sexual, physical, emotional or mental harm
- Neglected or abandoned by the custodial parent
- In the care of a parent who abuses alcohol or drugs
This is a sad little list but includes issues such as sexual abuse; deliberate cruelty; excessive punishment for minor offenses; parental withholding of food, drink, clothing, or shelter; patterns of psychological or mental abuse; willful neglect; unsafe living conditions; and a lot of other tragedies.
Poverty itself is not a qualifier, but the effects of poverty can quickly add up to unsafe conditions for a child. While noble that the parent foregoes a meal so a child may eat, days upon days of that — or a lack of heat in winter, or ill-fitting clothes unsuitable for school — create situations that a court may find intolerable.
Nobody Wins Here, Folks
If you want to call an emergency custody hearing to protect your child, bear in mind the goals in Virginia have nothing to do with one parent “winning” over another. The only question the court will ask is, “What is in the best interests of the child?”
If you feel your children’s mother is unable to properly care for your kids, contact your attorney to press for an emergency child custody hearing. Make your case. But keep in mind your goal is to protect your children from a dangerous situation, not rob them of their mother.
The hearing may terminate her custody, but she will still have a legal (and moral) right to see her children. Be ready for the court to dictate visitation terms that may offend you; accept that you protected your children.
How Quick are Emergency Custody Hearings?
The hearing will be expedited, so if you fear your children may be moved from the state, the window of opportunity for that is very brief. As long as the child is in Virginia, whether a “resident” or not, the state will act to remove the child from the dangerous environment (her custody). You will still need to work to achieve full physical custody for yourself. Proving her unfit is not equivalent to proving yourself fit.
Provide physical evidence of harm or the potential of harm to your child to make your case. Consider police, medical, or court records. Consider photographs of living conditions or the pantry in their custodial home. If you fear immediate harm, of course, call the police. Then, call your custody attorney.
If you face an emergency custody hearing in Virginia, please contact us at 757-383-9184, or reach out to us online. We work hard every day of the week to provide Virginia’s men a family law practice that protects their rights. We can explain child custody laws, how emergency child custody hearings operate, and what your options are.