3 Types of Child Custody Orders

When a court formally requires you to do something, it issues an order.

In custody cases, orders mandate who must care for a child and how, and they're often issued in the forms of parenting plans and custody schedules. Orders can vary for each child in a family.

Three types of court orders arise in custody cases: temporary, emergency and final orders.

For information specific to the largest U.S. states, see our articles on custody orders in California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas.

Visualize your schedule. Get a written parenting plan. Calculate your parenting time.

Make My Parenting Plan Now

Temporary orders

Temporary custody orders dictate who has custody and visitation throughout the litigation or settlement process. They can also set child support and address other parenting issues for this limited time period.

Normally, a temporary order remains in effect until a judge ends it, modifies it or issues a final order replacing it. Occasionally, a temporary order has an expiration date.

If parents can agree how to co-parent for the duration of their case, they may not need a temporary order. However, most courts encourage — and some may require — a temporary order for all cases. Parents with particularly contentious relationships should always get one.

Some courts offer free conciliation or mediation to help parents agree on a temporary order. If parents can't see eye to eye, they can ask the judge to decide the details of a temporary order after listening to them both in a hearing.

Although temporary orders focus on short-term solutions, they can affect a case's outcome. When a temporary order works well, parents or the judge may be inclined to use the same arrangements in a final order.

Emergency orders (ex parte orders)

Emergency orders are temporary orders issued rapidly, usually in cases with domestic violence or child abuse. In a custody case, they require evidence that the child faces immediate risk of danger or abduction.

To request an emergency custody order, draft a motion or petition explaining the urgent issue and file it with the court. You should hire a lawyer to write this, as it influences how soon the court hears your case.

Within a few days (or even hours, in very urgent situations), a judge decides whether to issue the order. They may first hold a hearing where you can testify about the emergency issue. This hearing is usually held ex parte, meaning the other parent does not attend.

If the judge grants you emergency custody, you'll have a hearing within the following weeks for both parents to present evidence. There, the judge will decide whether to overturn the emergency order, modify it or let it stand.

Final orders (permanent parenting plans or final decrees)

Final orders — also called permanent parenting plans, final decrees, final judgments, etc. — bring a case to a close. For custody cases, they specify details of legal custody and physical custody, usually in the form of a parenting plan. They also address all other issues in the case.

A final order replaces any related temporary orders and lasts until one of the following occurs:

  • The child turns 18.
  • The child is emancipated (legally declared independent from parents).
  • A parent proves to the court that modifying the order is necessary.

Preferably, parents decide their final custody arrangements in a settlement, and the judge signs off to make it a final order.

Alternatively, the judge decides a final order based on evidence presented at trial. If a parent has reason to contest the judge's decision, they can appeal to a higher court and begin the legal process again.

Staying in compliance with court orders

When a court issues orders, it's essential you follow them. If you don't, the court has numerous options for enforcing custody orders, including jail time.

But orders are complicated, especially ones for physical custody. When exactly does "Week 2" begin this month? Which day is considered the middle of winter break?

Use Custody X Change to transform your orders into a calendar you can edit and print, so you'll never have to wonder whether you're staying in compliance.

With the Custody X Change app, you can combine custody schedules for the school year, summer break and holidays into one calendar. Making changes is easy; just click and drag.

Take advantage of technology so you never have to wonder if you're interpreting the court's orders correctly.

Visualize your schedule. Get a written parenting plan. Calculate your parenting time.

Make My Parenting Plan Now

Explore examples of common schedules

Explore common schedules

Join the 60,000+ other parents who have used our co-parenting tools

Organize your evidence

Track your expenses, journal what happens, and record actual time. Print organized, professional documents.

Co-parent civilly

Our parent-to-parent messaging system, which detects hostile language, lets you collaborate without the drama.

Get an accurate child support order

Child support is based on parenting time or overnights in most jurisdictions. Calculate time instead of estimating.

Succeed by negotiating

Explore options together with visual calendars and detailed parenting plans. Present alternatives and reach agreement.

Never forget an exchange or activity

Get push notifications and email reminders, sync with other calendar apps and share with the other parent.

Save up to $50,000 by avoiding court

Write your parenting agreement without lawyers. Our templates walk you through each step.

Make My Plan



Long distance schedules

Third party schedules


Summer break

Parenting provisions


How to make a schedule

Factors to consider

Parenting plans:

Making a parenting plan

Changing your plan

Interstate, long distance

Temporary plans

Guides by location:

Parenting plans

Scheduling guidelines

Child support calculators

Age guidelines:

Birth to 18 months

18 months to 3 years

3 to 5 years

5 to 13 years

13 to 18 years


Joint physical custody

Sole physical custody

Joint legal custody

Sole legal custody

Product features:

Software overview

Printable calendars

Parenting plan templates

Journal what happens

Expense sharing

Parenting time tracking

Calculate time & overnights

Ways to use:

Succeed by negotiating

Prepare for mediation

Get ready for court


Bring calm to co‑parenting. Agree on a schedule and plan. Be prepared with everything documented.

Make My Parenting Plan Now

No thanks, I don't need a parenting plan