Can I Expedite a Change in Custody if I Fear My Child Is in Danger?

During, or leading up to, a family court proceeding in Maryland, a parent might fear that their child faces undue risk under the prevailing shared or partial custody arrangement, or if there is no custodial arrangement in place. If you fear your child is in danger and want to request immediate intervention, your concerns must meet the court’s strict standards to obtain an emergency or expedited hearing and potential relief.

If you believe your child is in danger, here are your options depending on your specific circumstances:

  1. Ex Parte Relief. This court motion seeks emergency relief, including immediate, same-day custodial intervention. This type of court intervention is granted in extreme situations. The “substantial risk of imminent and irreparable harm to a child” must be “clearly shown”. A parent must file a motion for immediate custody, including notice to the opposing parent or guardian that they are intending to file the next day. The court presents this motion to the presiding family court judge. Ruling may be issued on the filing alone, or sometimes a hearing is required. If granted, the judge enters a “temporary order of custody,” pending a full hearing on the issue. If a family court case is not already open, the party must file an underlying case, such as a Complaint for Custody.

  2. Emergency Relief. If the family court deems the circumstances to be an emergency, they will review the parent’s motion for emergency relief and if granted, schedule a hearing to be held within 10-14 days of filing. This parent must show that harm is likely to come to the child if the relief is not granted. For example, disputes regarding scheduling a medical procedure or enrollment in a school that begins in the fall might lead a court to grant legal custody on an emergency basis to one parent for purposes of these time-sensitive matters. For this type of matter, there must already be a pending underlying matter where both a Complaint and Answer have been filed.

  3. Expedited Relief. If the concern is not deemed an emergency, a parent may file a motion for expedited relief. Expedited relief will not change custody as quickly as ex parte or emergency relief, but it does allow for quicker consideration of the custody decision within the scheduled course of the family law case. Expedited relief might be granted when custody issues involve visitation deprivation, and the inability to enroll a child in summer camp or other time-sensitive programs.

  4. Holiday Intervention. Custody disputes involving holiday travel and visitation are rampant, and many jurisdictions offer additional resources when seeking relief related to holiday disputes, such as mediation and hearings to address this narrow issue.

An emergency in the eyes of a parent is not always an emergency in the eyes of the court. How to proceed and what to file with the Court should be carefully considered and prepared. Court motions should also include comprehensive affidavits from all parties with knowledge of the immediate harm that is likely to come to the child. The attorneys at TNS Family Law have vast experience strategizing and preparing the requisite documentation to present a parent’s case for immediate custodial relief.

If you have questions about emergency changes in custody, please contact Turnbull, Nicholson & Sanders, P.A. at (410) 339-4100 or Our team of family law attorneys is here to help guide you.

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Maryland Child Custody Laws
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