Texas Law on Emergency Custody Orders: When Are They Issued?

Understanding Emergency Custody Orders in Texas

In the state of Texas, family law courts have the authority to issue emergency custody orders, known as "temporary restraining orders" (TRO) or "temporary orders," when a child's immediate well-being is at risk. These orders are typically expedited and provide swift legal intervention to ensure the safety and welfare of a child.

Circumstances Warranting Emergency Custody Orders

Emergency custody orders are issued in situations where there is an imminent danger to the child's physical health or emotional development. This may include instances of abuse, neglect, abduction, or when a parent's behavior places the child in immediate harm, such as substance abuse or criminal activity.

For example, if a parent is found to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol while caring for the child, the court may find this situation constitutes an immediate danger and grant an emergency order limiting that parent's custody rights.

The Process of Obtaining an Emergency Order

To obtain an emergency custody order, a concerned party, typically a parent or guardian, must file a petition with the family court. This petition must outline the urgent circumstances necessitating the order and demonstrate that the child is likely to suffer harm without court intervention.

A judge will then review the petition. If they find sufficient evidence of potential harm to the child, they can issue a TRO without a hearing and without notifying the other party. This ex parte order is usually valid for up to 14 days until a formal hearing can take place where both parties have the opportunity to present their case.

Historical Reference

An historical example of emergency custody orders can be seen in cases involving domestic violence. In one landmark case in Texas, In re Marriage of Smith, emergency orders were upheld by appellate courts after finding that exposure to domestic violence posed a significant risk to children's physical and emotional well-being.

The Impact of Emergency Custody Orders

The consequences of these orders are profound. They can immediately alter parenting arrangements by temporarily suspending visitation rights or requiring supervised visitation. In some circumstances, they may also prompt law enforcement to remove a child from a dangerous environment.

However, these orders are subject to scrutiny at subsequent hearings, and all parties are entitled to due process. The ultimate goal is to protect children while balancing parental rights and ensuring fair legal proceedings.


Texas law prioritizes children's safety through its provisions for emergency custody orders. When faced with immediate danger, these orders act as a legal safeguard designed to protect vulnerable children from harm. While they are temporary measures, they play a critical role in Texas family law by addressing urgent risks to child welfare.