California Child Custody Orders: 3 Types

A court can issue several types of custody orders, all of which mandate how a child must be cared for. Find information on emergency orders, temporary orders and final orders below.

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Emergency orders

Also known as an ex parte order, an emergency order is a type of temporary order.

Courts do not issue emergency orders often, reserving them for urgent situations that can't wait for the normal hearing process, such as instances of child abuse.

When a parent opens a custody case or needs to change existing orders, he or she can apply for emergency orders to receive an expedited hearing.

The parent making the request must notify the other parent at least one day prior to the hearing. The other parent has the option to attend the emergency hearing but will not be able to present information to the judge.

At the hearing, the requesting party has to prove the children involved could be immediately harmed or removed from the state without court orders. The judge will only accept evidence relevant to the emergency and not to peripheral issues.

Details of emergency orders vary by case, but they automatically stipulate that the children involved cannot leave the state without permission from the court.

The orders stay in effect until the next hearing, which happens within 20 days. At that point, they can be terminated, replaced by temporary orders or extended. Both parties have the right to present evidence at this hearing.

Temporary orders

Temporary custody orders provide short-term solutions to parenting disputes that can wait for a regular hearing but cannot wait until the end of legal proceedings.

Also known as pendente lite orders, they dictate who will have custody and visitation of a child throughout the litigation or settlement process. They remain in effect until a judge modifies them or issues final orders.

Parents can agree on temporary orders or ask the court to set the terms. The courts usually issues temporary orders at the hearing following court-ordered mediation but can do so later in the process, if necessary.

Temporary orders, by their nature, focus on short-term issues and solutions, but lawyers caution that they can affect final orders and should be approached with that in mind.

Final orders

A final order is a court ruling that lasts until one of the following happens:

  • The child involved turns 18.
  • The child is emancipated.
  • The parents reach an alternate agreement.
  • A parent convinces the court to modify the order.

A final order replaces any temporary custody orders that were in place.

It specify details of legal custody and physical custody, which can be different for each child in a family. A final order can also stipulate requirements such as substance abuse treatment or counseling for the parents or children.

While judges can word orders for physical custody generally (e.g., giving Mom 70 percent of custody time), they usually specify a schedule. Show the judge a schedule that works well for you during your hearing or trial so they can take it into account.

Final orders can be reached in two ways.

Preferably, the parents draw up the terms together, and a judge signs off to finalize them. Known as settling, this is considered the gold standard by courts and parenting experts, as it keeps families in charge of their own lives.

Alternatively, a judge rules based on the evidence. If a parent has reason to contest a judge's decision, they can appeal to a higher court and begin the legal process again. They can also file a motion to cancel the court order.

Modifying a final order in California

If parents want to modify final orders anytime before their child turns 18, they have two options. First, they can develop a new plan together, sign it and submit it to the court for approval. If the parents do not agree, they can ask the court to modify the plan. This process may require mediation and hearings, like the first time the family requested orders.

To ask the court to change a parenting schedule, parents need to prove it would be in the child's best interest. Before a court will order any other modifications to a parenting plan, it will also require proof that the family's circumstances have changed substantially.

Some final orders include planned modifications. For example, in a step-up parenting plan, an estranged parent's visitation time gradually increases.

Enforcing a final order

If the other parent doesn't follow court orders, you should keep detailed records of the violations. You can use your Custody X Change journal or actual parenting time tracker.

For serious or repeat violations, contact police or file for contempt with the court. If you think your situation calls for a contempt of court case, speak to an attorney; these are typically criminal proceedings.

Following court orders correctly

When a court issues orders, you must follow them. If you don't, you can be brought back to court, fined and more.

But orders are complicated, especially for visitation. When exactly does "Week 2" begin this month? Which day marks the middle of summer break?

Use Custody X Change to plug your order into a calendar you can edit, share and print so you'll never have to wonder whether you're following the order correctly.

With the Custody X Change online app, you can combine schedules for the school year, summer break and holidays into one calendar.

You can even track how well court orders are being followed with our parenting time tracker and parenting journal.

Custody X Change has all the tools you need to set your new parenting arrangement up for success.

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