Emergency Child Custody in North Carolina

Child Custody Best Interest

The law in North Carolina is that a parent may seek emergency custody in limited circumstances when there are extreme safety concerns or there is a risk that a parent will move or has moved the child from North Carolina to avoid this state’s jurisdiction.

In North Carolina child custody cases, emergency temporary orders may be entered upon the request of one party without the other party being present in court.  This is called an “ex parte” hearing and in this type of hearing only one side tells the court its version of events.

The ex parte order, if entered by the court, will be reviewed with notice and an opportunity for the other party to be present within ten days. Reasons for emergency custody are varied, for example, an ex parte custody order may be entered if a child is abandoned.  Another example where an ex parte order is appropriate is if the child has been a victim of physical abuse by a parent.

Many parents think that emergency custody can be sought in every situation; however, that is not the case. District court judges generally look very closely at applications for ex parte emergency custody and will refuse to enter an order unless the facts clearly rise to the level requiring the court to enter an order.

Judges look at ex parte applications for emergency custody and supporting affidavits closely because of the danger of abuse of the process when only one side gets to tell his or her story and because the relief that is being asked for usually involves a child being taken away from the other parent, frequently with the involvement of the police. If an ex parte emergency custody order is entered there will be a return hearing where both sides should be prepared to present evidence to the court.  In this hearing the plaintiff (the parent seeking emergency custody) will be asking for an order to remain in place.  The defendant will be arguing and presenting evidence that there is no emergency.

Frequently courts will use the return hearing to fashion a temporary order in an effort to add stability for the children and to establish a framework for the parents’ interaction. If you think your case has facts that justify a request for emergency custody, you should contact an attorney to assist you with evaluating the situation and get advice on how best to proceed.  If the facts do not support emergency custody, then it is always best not to file the emergency request and proceed with a custody request and set temporary child custody for hearing.


Scott Allen handles emergency custody claims, child custody, and temporary custody hearings and has over nineteen years of experience.   If you have questions or need assistance call him at (919) 863-4183 or email at sallen@allenspence.com.