Temporary child custody, also known as a temporary parenting plan, is a court order that grants custody of a child or children to a parent or relative before a final parenting plan is worked out and approved by the court. Like other custody types, it gives the custodial parent or relative the legal authority to make decisions involving the children's health care, education, and welfare. Temporary child custody is a short-term arrangement that helps parents maintain a regular routine for their children until final custody is determined.

Facts about temporary child custody

States have different rules and guidelines regarding temporary child custody. In general, either parent or an extended family member, such as a grandparent, may petition for temporary child custody. Courts only grant temporary child custody after the other parent (or both parents, in the case of a relative) is notified and has a chance to respond. True to its name, temporary child custody is not permanent and is usually valid until the parents' next court date.

When to seek temporary child custody

If there is no custody order when a couple separates, both parents have the power to make decisions alone on behalf of the child. Because it can take months, or even years, to finalize a divorce, having rules in place to guide day-to-day childcare prevents misunderstandings and disputes as time wears on. A temporary custody order can specify when each parent will have the child to prevent one parent from denying access to or running off with the child. The order may also specify when child support is due to enforce payment.

You do not need a lawyer to file for temporary child custody. However, each state has different requirements for temporary custody, so make sure you understand your state's process.

Temporary child custody by a non-parent

Extended family members may file for temporary child custody if the child's parents are physically or mentally unable to care for their child. If granted, temporary child custodians have the legal right to make decisions on the child's behalf. Temporary child custodians may include the child's putative father (a man who reasonably believes he is the child's father but has no proof, due to the mother's absence).

Eligibility and requirements for temporary custody differ from state to state. In most cases, however, the petitioner must have the parents' signed consent to file.

Additional resources:

Divorce Source: overview and state-specific orders

Woman's Divorce: Q & A

Related Legal Guides:

Understanding Child Custody

Joint Child Custody

Visitation Rights (for children in the custody of one parent)