Child custody family law emergency
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Child Custody & Parenting Time: What Constitutes an Emergency and What Doesn’t

Child custody family law emergency

When sharing custody with someone, be it an ex-husband, ex-wife, former love interest, or even a past fling, it can be a daunting situation to navigate. It is not uncommon for two co-parents to discover—or rediscover—that there are major differences in their parenting styles, daily life/care preferences, discipline of the child, and day-to-day household environments. Put simply, you don’t like how the other parent is raising “your” child, but the reality is the child isn’t just “yours” and it is important that you learn to co-parent as harmoniously as possible with the child’s other parent. And the truth is: that isn’t always easy.

A big part of positive coparenting and navigating the family law court system effectively is learning what constitutes an “emergency”—and what doesn’t. If you call your lawyer every time any little thing happens in the day-to-day, regardless of its significance, it tends to make your legal bills grow a whole lot faster. And often, those calls and emails about the little things do not lead to any positive action taken on your/the child’s behalf or at least not typically in an “emergency” manner. This is because everything that happens—even if it does bother you or is annoying—does not constitute an emergency, even if it feels like it does.

What constitutes an emergency is the child being in immediate mental or physical danger—and that can be a high bar to cross. It bears mentioning that there are also certain actions/inactions for which one parent may be found to be in contempt of court for their actions or inactions, which could result in them being scolded by the judge, forced to pay the attorney fees of the other parent as a result of the contempt/emergency court filing, or even placed in jail.

Some examples of major issues that could constitute an emergency include things such as:

  • The child’s safety being at issue due to a variety of issues, including substance abuse, battery on the child, or a criminal action related to the battery of another child.
  • Ongoing verbal or mental abuse of the child.

It will be up to a judge to hear the facts and determine if the issue one parent is complaining about is an issue that does or does notrise to the level of a true emergency. The issue must be poignant and pressing. We understand that, for many people, this can seem like a gray area, so we are going to spell things out a bit more clearly below with some examples.

Some of the issues we see commonly that do require court intervention (you calling your lawyer to make that happen, but not necessarily on an emergency basis, include: the other parent not turning the child over to you for a visit or a failure by the co-parents to agree on major issues related to the proper care of the child: religious decisions, schooling or childcare decisions, and/or the child’s basic needs not being met by the other parent in a way that potentially places the child in mental or physical danger. These are just a handful of examples.   

Here is a list of some common issues we hear from clients in cases involving their children that typically do not rise to the level of an “emergency” in the eyes of the court but could potentially result in contempt petitions or non-emergency motions being filed.

That the other parent:

  • Is argumentative.
  • Isn’t nice to you anymore.
  • Isn’t parenting the way you would like him/her to.
  • Has a different parenting style—is too strict or too lenient.
  • Has different rules at his/her house.
  • Is dating someone that you don’t like and don’t want around your child.
  • Has an unclean or unorganized home that isn’t up to your personal standards.
  • Has People around the child who you feel are not good influences.
  • Does not feed the child meals you deem to be appropriate or up to par.
  • Does not dress/clothe the child the way you would prefer.
  • Has issues with attendance at, and transportation to, the child’s extracurricular activities. 
  • Has other day-to-day issues that annoy you in the way he/she cares for the child.

These are the types of issues that we most frequently get calls about from our clients in family law cases. These issues typically do not rise to the level of being a true emergency that would require court intervention. They are simply the day-to-day things that tend to drive co-parents crazy. They also tend to increase a client’s legal bills over time far more rapidly than would occur if a more focused approach is taken. If you call or email your lawyer regarding non-emergency issues, random issues, or the day-to-day annoyances of coparenting with your ex, he/she is going to bill you for those communications. That’s just the way it works. It is the goal of the attorneys at our Firm to help our clients navigate the family law arena while focusing on the issues that are most relevant or pressing that could make an impression on the court. We focus on the proper timing for presenting a particular complaint to the court and weigh the pros and cons of when to do so. We also help our clients to keep their bills down as much as possible by communicating effectively with them and encouraging them to do the same with us.

It also bears mentioning that attempting to ring the “emergency” bell with the judge if he/she does not deem the issue presented to be an emergency may result in him/her not viewing any of your future “emergency issues” with a slight undercurrent of diminished credibility. Concerns are not always emergencies, even if there truly are issues present that do need to be addressed at the proper time. This is something your experienced family lawyer can help you to sort through.

If an issue arises in the day-to-day that is NOT a true emergency, we recommend writing down a note about the issue in a notebook so you can present a list of issues/events that occurred that you can then relay to your attorney prior to the next scheduled hearing in your case. This will allow your attorney to be your best advocate, to assess the situation at hand in the most effective way, and to then present any and all facts that he/she feels to be pertinent or helpful to your case. Communicating in an intentional and focused way will help to drastically reduce your legal bills because, rather than calling your lawyer 5-10 times in a month about random things that happen along the way, you are simply providing a written list to him or her all at one time—maybe every few weeks, monthly, or prior to a hearing—which helps the attorney to streamline his/her focus and efforts on your behalf. Communicating with your attorney in a smart way will serve you both well.

Another general tip is to think of parenting as a business transaction and to do your best to get along with the other coparent for the sake of your child –and all involved. The court’s focus and interest will always be on what is in the best interest of your child, even if that doesn’t always line up with what you view to be the child’s best interest. This is precisely what your lawyer is there for—to help you wade through the various issues that arise along the way, sort through them, and present the key facts to the court in a way that focuses on what is in the best interest of your child.

Co-parenting woes? We understand.

Is it a true emergency? Let us help you sort that out.

Call us today to speak with one of our experienced and friendly — but aggressive — family law attorneys at (855) 582-7900. We now have seven offices to serve you better!

We’re here to help.

Contact us today!

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