What Is an Emergency Screening?

An Emergency Screening is ordered to assist the court in determining the health, safety, welfare, and best interests of the child regarding the current emergency related to child custody and visitation.  An Emergency Screening is an urgently needed and time limited examination conducted by an investigator from Family Court Services, focusing on emergency issues and resulting in written recommendations to the court.

When Is an Emergency Screening Appropriate?

Emergency Screenings are a limited resource which should be reserved for cases involving true emergencies pertaining to a child’s immediate health, safety, or welfare.  The court will send a case to an Emergency Screening only if it is necessary due to an imminent risk to the child.

Pursuant to the Guidelines, an Emergency Screening is appropriate when:

  • There is evidence that the child may have been abused, neglected, or endangered;
  • There is evidence of child abduction or legitimate concern related to potential child abduction;
  • A parent is denied access to the child and there is no visitation order;
  • A move away issue is related to the emergency safety issues;
  • There is significant evidence that the child is suffering severe ongoing distress related to the existing time-sharing arrangements;
  • A parent is severely developmentally or psychiatrically disabled and the judge is therefore unable to determine an appropriate temporary time-sharing arrangement; and
  • Medical neglect that endangers a child.

What Happens at an Emergency Screening?

Before the Screening:  Each party may submit documents, certificates, photos, records, letters, etc. to the screener so long as everyone in the case has been given a copy.  A signed declaration made under penalty of perjury or a copy of a proof of service is required.  The limit for documents is 15 pages.  Attorneys will meet with their assigned screener for about 15 minutes.  Counsel will have the opportunity to tell the screener what they allege is a safety concern, deny is a safety concern, and feel would be best for the child.

During the Screening:  First, the screener will interview the parents.  Domestic violence victims are entitled to have separate interviews and may have a support person attend the screening.  The screener will then review the court file and selected documents or materials related to the emergency issues.  The screener will:  (1) conduct criminal record checks on all adults living in the home; (2) conduct a Child Protective Services history check; (3) interview the child(ren); (4) observe the child(ren) interacting with the parents or other family members; (5) interview other family members or witnesses by phone or in person; and (6) collect additional data from school, daycare, physicians, police, etc.

After the Screening:  Upon completion of the Emergency Screening, the screener will present written recommendations to the parents, attorneys, and the Court.  If both parents agree to the recommendations, they will become court orders.  If either parent does not agree with the recommendations, they will be presented to the judge and the parents will have a short hearing at the conclusion of which, the judge will make immediate, temporary orders related to child custody and visitation.

For more information about Emergency Screenings, please visit http://www.scscourt.org/court_divisions/family/fcs/fcs_home.shtml or contact a family law attorney who practices in Santa Clara County.

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