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Emergency Custody in Maryland: How to File & Grounds

patrickcrawford | March 29, 2023

Nothing is scarier than feeling like your child is in danger with your ex. Perhaps your co-parenting ex has started drinking again. Perhaps your co-parenting ex has made threats to take the child to an unknown location far away. Perhaps your ex is leaving the child unattended or otherwise neglected. Either way, if you are in Maryland, you will want to try to obtain an emergency child custody order. The emergency order can be granted quicker than you might think. Here is the information you need to file for that order.


Emergency Custody Hearings vs. Regular Custody Hearings

Traditional Maryland child custody hearings can require you to wait for weeks before seeing a judge. Emergency custody hearings get you in front of the judge in a matter of days, generally speaking. Sometimes you can even see the judge within a few hours. The more dangerous the court feels that the situation is for the child, the sooner a judge is put on your case. Please note that your child must be present in Maryland at the time of the emergency custody hearing in order for the MD court to have jurisdiction.


What Situation Merits an Emergency Custody Hearing in Maryland?

If an existing child custody agreement is not being followed, just that in and of itself can be enough to merit an emergency child custody hearing or order. You can even seek an emergency custody order (or “ex parte” custody order) if it seems reasonable to believe the existing custody order will be violated in the near future. For example, if your co-parent is not supposed to leave the state with your child but the child told you that “dad/mom is taking him on a cross-country flight this weekend”, you have grounds, based on this information, to seek an emergency custody order in MD.

Likewise, you might seek an emergency custody order under these additional situations:

  • If your child is dealing with neglect or abandonment (This includes denying the child needed medical attention and/or forcing unnecessary medical treatment on the child)
  • If your child has been abused physically, sexually, or emotionally (or there are even mere threats of abuse)
  • If your co-parent is involved in illegal activity or actively uses drugs/alcohol
  • If your child is witnessing abuse, violence, addiction, or other dangerous behaviors
  • If your co-parent has been found guilty of neglecting or abusing another minor in the past
  • If you have reason to believe the child will be taken far away (out of state) and this goes against your existing custody order
  • If your co-parent is not in a stable or safe housing situation
  • If your co-parent is not providing basic things like hygiene care, food and water, clothing, bedding, transportation to and from school, etc
  • If your co-parent is leaving your child with another guardian (babysitter, new wife) who meets any of these criteria outlined in these bullet points
  • If your co-parent is living with someone who meets any of these criteria


How Does an Emergency Custody Hearing Work in Maryland?

To start an ex parte custody hearing in MD, your lawyer will file a petition with the court stating the nature of the emergency. Your lawyer will communicate that an urgent hearing is needed because your child is in immediate danger. This petition will not go into the details of your divorce settlement or child support arrangement—just the facts, ma’am.

Sometimes a hearing with the co-parent might be scheduled on short notice. If so, you can expect for that hearing to take place within a few business days. These hearings are usually informal and short, and they are rarely held in open court (expect to meet in the judge’s chambers). Because it’s not a formal hearing, there won’t be witnesses, evidence, cross-examination, etc. The judge will ask a few questions, and you may or may not even say anything. Again, the point of this emergency order and hearing is timeliness. Thoroughness will be dealt with as a secondary priority.


What You Must Demonstrate to the Court

In your emergency custody petition, you need to give as many specifics as you can to document the motivation for urgent action from the Maryland court. Please note that you can only request an emergency custody order if you already have a custody case on file with the state (In other words, if you are married, have a fight with your spouse, and want to take your kid away, a judge can not grant you emergency custody under these type of proceedings because you have no custody documentation in the system at this point). 

Nevertheless, these types of things are what a judge will look for in order to grant you an emergency child custody order:

  • Notes from a doctor or medical records (this could be a therapist, a dentist, or any kind of doctor)
  • Professional evaluations from a social worker, counselor, teacher, etc
  • Any proof of a criminal record for your co-parent
  • Police reports or 9-1-1 records
  • Copies of previous or current restraining orders or ex parte orders
  • Incident reports from Child Protective Services

The importance of having the right documentation can not be understated.  Without the necessary proof, a judge may not grant your emergency custody order. 


mother kissing son


One Type of Temporary Child Custody

During a divorce procedure, a judge will likely issue a temporary custody order for the duration of the divorce. This is called a “pendente lite” temporary custody order. Pendente Lite means “pending litigation.” Pendente Lite custody orders are rarely, if ever, issued in emergency situations.


Contact a Maryland Child Custody Lawyer ASAP! 

If your child’s safety is on the line, you can be penalized for not stepping up and taking action! Our MD custody attorneys can help you get the emergency support order you need to protect your child. Our speedy and dedicated family lawyers are ready to help now. Don’t hesitate to reach out via our online contact form or call us 24/7 at 410-694-7349.

Patrick Crawford

Patrick is an Annapolis Family Lawyer dedicated to helping you through the most complex and emotional family law matters. During his career, Patrick has successfully represented countless people in divorce, child custody, child support, domestic violence and other family law cases of diverse complexity.

Years of experience: 20+ years.
Maryland Registration Status: Active and authorized to practice law.

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This page has been written, edited, and reviewed by a team of legal writers following our comprehensive editorial guidelines. This page was approved by attorney Patrick Crawford, who has more than 16 years of legal experience practicing family law.