COVID – 19 Family Law: Emergency Custody Orders in Tampa

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has changed routines for families across the area. Parents throughout Hillsborough County are sheltering in place, and struggling to balance remote learning, working from home, or unexpected job losses with the stress of a public health crisis.

This unprecedented situation has also raised concerns about child custody and parenting time, especially if COVID-19 has aggravated an already difficult custody arraignment. In a perfect world, parents should follow their existing custody and parenting court orders. Still, the outbreak may have made your ex’s environment unstable, unsafe, or worsened conditions that you were trying to resolve before Florida’s court closures.

Florida has options to protect the well-being of a child, and Hillsborough Circuit Court is still handling emergency custody orders despite the pandemic. If you believe your child is facing an immediate threat, call an experienced Tampa attorney right away. There’s no time to waste and, attorney Brett Metcalf will deliver clear guidance and quick action to secure emergency custody and a new arraignment that keeps your child safe.

Call (813) 258-4800 or contact us online for a free consultation.

Emergency Child Custody Orders in Tampa

Typical custody court orders in Florida are designed to be modified based on a material and substantial change in circumstances. But sometimes, the normal court process may be too slow. As a result, Florida law allows parents to seek temporary custody in certain emergencies.

Keep in mind emergency orders are not meant to handle the usual parenting disagreements about custody and parenting time. They are intended for significant situations because emergency orders grant immediate, albeit temporary, removal from one parent to the other.

Also, emergency orders suspend the standard rights of the other parent based on the severity of the situation, such as having advance notice of the hearing and telling their side.

Reasons to Seek Emergency Custody

Florida courts generally only grant emergency custody if there is an imminent and genuine threat to the health, safety, or psychological well-being of a child. Some specific examples that may warrant emergency child custody are:

  • Severe child neglect or recent abuse
  • Sincere threats to abduct the child
  • Evidence of child abandonment
  • Serious drug or alcohol abuse by the other parent
  • A major change in circumstances or behavior that put the child in danger.

If you have credible evidence of abuse or neglect, contacting law enforcement should be your first step. The Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office or Tampa Police can file an official report, which will aid in securing a restraining order. However, a restraining order will not modify a court-ordered custody arraignment.

Your best option is to work with an experienced lawyer who can use the police report and restraining order to file for an emergency custody order simultaneously.

Emergency Child Custody Hearings in Hillsborough County

Once a motion for emergency custody is filed with the clerk of courts, an emergency hearing will be held. As mentioned above, this hearing will be conducted without the other parent present in an attempt to provide immediate relief.

During the emergency custody hearing, the judge will hear arguments regarding the threat to your child’s safety, review evidence like CPS reports, photos, medical records police reports, witness testimony, and any other relevant evidence before making a determination.

If no credible threat is found, your motion could be dismissed. However, when legitimate danger is present, the judge can make various rulings to address your specific custody issue.

While court orders will depend on the unique factors involved, an emergency custody order can suspend visitation, require supervised visits, order parenting classes or anger management, or transfer sole custody to a family member or parent pending the outcome of a formal custody trial.

Are Emergency Child Custody Orders Permanent?

Since emergency child custody orders are designed to address imminent threats to a child’s safety, the other parent does not have a chance to immediately respond. As a result, these rulings are temporary.

A formal trial will likely be scheduled so that both parties have the opportunity to be heard. During the trial, the other parent can respond to the order, provide evidence they have met the conditions of the order, and demonstrate they are no longer a danger.

On the other hand, you and your attorney can also present evidence that supports a permanent change in custody based on the unique facts of the case. For instance, if the other parent has a long history of substance abuse, you can make a case for supervised visitation or mandatory treatment before reinstating joint custody.

At this point, the judge may reinstate the previous custody agreement, allow visitation, or modify the official custody order according to the best interests of the child.

Emergency Verified Motions for Child Pick-Up Order

Outside of pursuing emergency custody, there are various times when another parent or party is interfering with your court-ordered parenting time. For example, if your ex refused to return your children by a specific time, according to your official arrangement, you may pursue an Emergency Verified Pick Up Order.

This directs the sheriff or law enforcement officer to take a minor child from the person who currently has physical possession and deliver them to your physical custody. This should only be used in an emergency by a person who has a pre-existing legal right to physical possession of a minor child. This means that you already have a court order awarding you custody, timesharing, or you are the birth mother, and no court order has addressed any other person’s parental rights.

After completing this form, you should sign it before a notary public or deputy clerk. You should then file the original, along with all of the other required documents, with the clerk of the circuit court in the county where the child) is physically located.

Other forms you may need to file an Emergency Verified Pick Up Order in Hillsborough County include:

  • Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) Affidavit, Florida Supreme Court Approved Family Law Form 12.902(d).
  • A certified copy of the court order showing legal custody of or time-sharing with the child.
  • A certified copy of the child’s birth certificate(s).
  • A certified copy of any judgment establishing paternity, time-sharing, or custody.

Can I Lose Custody Because of the Coronavirus?

Parents who share parenting time and custody have a lot to deal with under normal circumstances. Now COVID-19 adds a layer of complexity and added debate over what is considered responsible behavior for a parent.

For instance, a Florida doctor recently lost custody of her 4-year-old daughter until the pandemic is over because of possible exposure related to her position as an ER doctor. While every case is unique and cases should be based on the best interests of the children involved, this puts healthcare and other frontline workers in the difficult position of possibly losing custody of their children in favor of protecting public health.

Need Emergency Custody or Have Questions? Contact Attorney Metcalf Today

Parents will naturally have different views on how to address the outbreak relative to their children’s day-to-day lives. And while not every disagreement rises to an emergency and parents should try to work with each other, if you genuinely fear for your child’s well-being or the pandemic is hindering a legitimate custody emergency, contact an experienced family law attorney right away.

Family courts in Hillsborough County are still hearing cases regarding critical situations like child custody, and attorney Bret Metcalf is ready to help you. As an experienced attorney, he can guide you through the process, present your case in the best possible light, and argue for a truly acceptable custody agreement that keeps your child safe and healthy.

Call (813) 258-4800 or contact us online for a free consultation.