How Do Emergency Motions Work?

We’ve all seen the Lifetime movies: a divorced mom’s suburban life is turned upside down when she realizes her ex spouse has taken their child to another country without her consent. Chaos and heartbreak ensues as she tries to get her kid back.

If you’re a parent, you can imagine the anguish of a situation like that disrupting someone’s life. And TV drama exists for a reason: alarming situations do occur in real life. So what can you do if you find yourself worried about your child’s safety?

What constitutes an emergency?

Anything that, objectively speaking, is urgent or critical. But it has to be urgent or critical from an objective point of view. So it has be something that is threatening to your child’s safety or well-being. Some examples include when one parent takes the child out of state in direct violation of an existing court order; or a parent who’s in care of a child has a substance or alcohol abuse problem and is displaying dangerous or careless behavior that threatens the child’s wellbeing. If law enforcement calls you to tell you that your child was removed from your co-parent’s care because your ex was walking around naked in the neighborhood, obviously under the influence of a controlled substance, or your infant was found home alone after a neighbor alerted the authorities, by all means, file an emergency motion.

What’s does the process entail?

In order to file this motion, you have to have an existing right over the child in question, (i.e. being a parent or legal guardian). There also must be an existing case regarding time sharing and/or parental rights over the minor child. (If not, you’ll have to start one.) If both of those scenarios apply to you, then you may file an emergency motion for child pick-up order.

Once you file your motion, within 48 hours, a judge will review it to determine whether the circumstances merit that the court grant your request to treat it as an emergency. If it does, the judge will issue an order for immediate pick-up of your child. You can then take this order to law enforcement for them to return the child to your custody.

That order, however, is temporary. The court will schedule a hearing so that both parties can have a chance to present their story. After considering what each parent has to say and reviewing the evidence presented, the judge will issue a new order, always maintaining as a priority the best interest of the child.

What is not an emergency?

Resentment and animosity are often part of a family law case. This does not mean that any argument with your ex about what your child should be eating, or how late he or she should go to bed, or any other combination of quotidian details would constitute an emergency. If you’re angry, but your child is safe, it probably isn’t an emergency. Finances, alone, are never an emergency.

If you’re having a contentious co-parenting relationship, the best way to know how to move forward is by consulting with an experienced family law attorney. Let Open Palm Law help you.

Follow Open Palm Law to learn more about the collaborative divorce process and how it can help you!

Need advice now? Contact Joryn!


About this week’s authors:  Joryn Jenkins.


Joryn, attorney and Open Palm Founder, began her own firm here in Tampa after a 14-year career in law, 2 of which she served as professor in law at Stetson University.  She is a recipient of the prestigious A. Sherman Christensen award, an honor bestowed upon those who have provided exceptional leadership to The American Inns of Court Movement.  For more information on Joryn’s professional experience, take a look at her resume.

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