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Applying for Emergency Custody: When & How (Step-by-Step)


The process of divorce can be emotionally taxing and often presents numerous legal challenges, especially when it involves children. One area of particular concern for parents is the matter of emergency custody, where a parent seeks immediate changes to parenting arrangements for the safety and well-being of their child. In Canada, the Divorce Act underwent significant changes as of March 1, 2021, including a shift in terminology from "custody and access" to "parenting arrangements." This blog post aims to provide an overview of the process for applying for emergency custody (now referred to as "emergency parenting arrangements") under the updated Divorce Act.

Understanding Parenting Arrangements

Before delving into the process, it's important to understand the concept of parenting arrangements. Parenting arrangements encompass decisions about where the children will live (referred to as "parenting time") and how decisions about their care will be made (referred to as "decision-making responsibility"). These arrangements can be determined by mutual agreement between parents or by a court order. However, there may be circumstances where a parent is concerned about the child's immediate safety, and an urgent change to the existing arrangement is necessary.

When to Seek Emergency Parenting Arrangements

In certain situations, a parent may need to seek an emergency change to the parenting arrangements. This typically occurs when there is a credible threat to the child's safety, well-being, or health. Examples of such situations include:

  • Suspected or confirmed abuse or neglect
  • Immediate danger of parental abduction
  • Substance abuse by a parent that endangers the child
  • Sudden or unforeseen circumstances that impact the child's safety

Applying for an Emergency Custody Order

The process for applying for emergency parenting arrangements involves the following steps:

  1. Gather Evidence: Collect any evidence that supports the need for an emergency change in parenting arrangements, such as police reports, medical records, or witness statements.
  2. Prepare Court Documents: Prepare the necessary court documents, including an application for an emergency order and an affidavit that details the reasons for seeking the order. Legal assistance is highly recommended to ensure the documents are correctly prepared.
  3. File the Application: File the application and accompanying documents with the appropriate family court. Note that there may be filing fees associated with the application.
  4. Attend the Hearing: The court will typically schedule a hearing on an expedited basis. During the hearing, both parents will have the opportunity to present their case to the judge.
  5. Receive the Court Order: If the judge determines that an emergency change to the parenting arrangements is necessary, the court will issue an order outlining the new arrangements.


The decision to seek emergency parenting arrangements is a serious one and should not be taken lightly. It's important to consult with a family law lawyer to understand your legal options and to navigate the complexities of the court system. Remember that the primary consideration in any parenting arrangement is the best interests of the child, and the court will always prioritize their safety and well-being.

Disclaimer: This blog post is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Please seek legal counsel for assistance with your specific situation.

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