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Emergency Child Custody Orders and Cross Border Disputes Between Parents

This is an article contributed by Farzad Family Law of California.

Jurisdictional disputes between California and Arizona parents in child custody cases are not uncommon. Not only are the two states in proximity to each other but we have seen quite a bit of travel and change of residences between the two states. At Farzad Family Law our lawyers have also seen cases where a parent with a California child custody order seeks to modify it in Arizona and vice versa.

In this article, we are going to write about California law. We are, after all, California family law attorneys. Any questions about Arizona law can be directed to Cantor Law Group.

Here is a common hypothetical and the subject of this article.

An Arizona mom and dad have Arizona child custody orders. California family court has never been involved. One of the parents is now in California but the children have not been here long enough nor there is not another legal basis for the California court to exercise the more traditional jurisdiction (which is the court’s “power”) to make custody orders. The parent that is herein California believes the children are in serious danger and needs emergency orders in California. What can that parent do?

Before we begin, please understand that no article is going to give you the answer to every scenario and nothing in this article is intended to nor should it be construed as legal advice. What we have done here is to give the general parameters of what the California family court may take into consideration when it is faced with an emergency request by a parent with out of state orders.

What is Emergency Child Custody Jurisdiction in California?

California’s jurisdiction comes in different forms. One of them is what we call “temporary emergency jurisdiction.” “Temporary” means exactly that – the court will not make permanent orders on an emergency basis. “Emergency” means the court will look at the issue much faster than the normal court calendar would allow. Emergency orders can be same day or within 24 hours.

For the court to make temporary emergency custody orders in California, the following needs to happen:

  1. The child or children must be in this state, AND
  2. EITHER the child or children have been “’abandoned”, which means they have been left without the basic necessities, reasonable care or supervision, OR the California court needs to make emergency orders to protect the child or children or even the parent from mistreatment or abuse or threat of mistreatment or abuse.

What is mistreatment or abuse? It’s not specifically defined or narrowed in California child custody cases. That means the definition is broad. It includes but is not limited to domestic violence, situations that involve a parent’s failure to attend to the children’s serious medical needs, physical harm to the children or a serious threat of it, or other situations that expose the children to danger, such as evidence of drug or alcohol abuse.

The Court doesn’t make such rulings lightly. There needs to be evidence of the abuse or mistreatment or threat of either.

How Long Do the Emergency Custody Orders Last?

How long the emergency order lasts depends on different factors. In our hypothetical, the California court would have to immediately communicate with the Arizona court. If you think that means the California judge picks up the phone and calls the Arizona judge, you are not too far off. That happens. Regardless of how the communication occurs, it cannot be unreasonably delayed. Once Arizona takes over the matter and the emergency, California’s orders can terminate and the parents litigate their custody issue in Arizona.

What happens if nothing is commenced in Arizona? Or the Arizona court doesn’t keep the case? Are there other ways California can just keep the case? These questions are beyond the scope of this article and require the expertise of  experienced family law attorneys.

About the Author: B. Robert Farzad is the president of Farzad Family Law, APC, located at 1851 East 1st Street, Suite 1150, Santa Ana, CA 92705. He is a California licensed attorney and his law practice is limited exclusively to California family law matters. He can be reached at (714) 937-1193.

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