What is Temporary Child Custody?

Parents who have just separated or divorced are faced with a tough decision to make about child custody. That is, who will take custody of the child or children before the final decision is issued by the court. 

Here’s the secret about temporary custody… In general, most of the time, Temporary becomes Permanent, barring any extreme conditions. Keep that in mind as you proceed.

What is temporary child custody?

Temporary child custody is an order for child custody that is issued by the court when the parents of the child can’t agree on who should take custody of the child before the child custody case that is pending in court is determined. A child custody case may take a long time for the final decisions to be made by the court depending on the complexity of the matters

During this period of conflict on which parent should take custody, one parent may file for temporary child custody order (TCO). Where the court will consider and issue an order for temporary custody. 

Just like in the final order, TCO is decided to suit the best interests of the child. If the child is still of a young age, say less than 5 years old, that child may be placed in the custody of the mother until when a substantial and final decision is made. 

How long does a temporary custody order last?

A temporary custody order may last for several months or even years, depending on the nature of the case, and the long it takes for the final decision to be made. Typically, it can last until a new order is issued by the court, whether final or amended temporary order. 

What does temporary custody order entail?

As we mentioned, and just like in the final custody order, the judge would consider what is in the best interests of the child before deciding on which parent can take physical or legal custody of the child. Remember, the child’s life routine must not be interrupted by the pending child custody case. Therefore, temporary custody would entail:

Physical custody 

Temporary custody stipulates which parent would take physical custody of the child. This refers to where the child will primarily stay before the final outcome of the pending case is determined. Before any parent is granted the right to have temporary physical custody with the child, the judge will consider some factors as well such as:

  • Whether the environment is safe for the child. 
  • Parent’s mental and physical health. 
  • The age of the child. 
  • The willingness and ability of the parent to care for and support the child. 
  • Continuity and stability of the child’s routine. 
  • The preference of the child if he or she is of age. 

Legal custody 

Just like in the final custody order, a judge may give temporary legal custody to one of the parents. That parent will deal with matters that affect the child directly or indirectly and make decisions based on what is in the best interests of the child on matters such as health, religion, education, and entertainment just to mention a few. 

Temporary visitation schedule 

The judge may grant the non-custodial parent a temporary visitation schedule before the final order is issued. This covers the pick-up and drop-off time, and how the child visitation should be conducted, whether supervised or not. 

Child support 

Since the child’s routine should remain as stable as possible, each parent is responsible for the needs of the child in terms of food, clothing, shelter, healthcare, and education. Therefore, each parent is required to financially support the child while awaiting the final custody order. The judge may stipulate specific terms on matters of support for the child. 

Can temporary child custody be modified?

As we noted earlier, a child custody battle can take months to years before a final decision is made. Within this time, parents’ circumstances may change and necessitate the need for modification of the temporary order. 

It is possible to modify a temporary child custody order and the affected parent may seek a modification through their attorneys. 

Some situations that may necessitate the need for modifications for temporary custody order may include the following:

  • Job loss leading to a change in the financial situation of the parent.
  • Changes in the work schedules of the parents. 
  • If one of the parents gets sick for a prolonged period. 
  • Relocation by one of the parents.

Therefore, if the judge finds substantial reasons necessitating changes in the temporary custody order, such changes may be granted. 

Does it impact the final outcome?

In most cases, the temporary custody orders become final orders. A judge will typically consider the best interests of the child, the child’s preference, and also the child’s routine, which in most cases, a judge does not want to interrupt. 

Unless the parent with physical custody rights abuses the rights of the child or acts in a manner that does not promote the best interests of the child, it is likely that a temporary custody order will be made permanent. 


Temporary child custody orders are used in most cases to protect the rights of both parents. It is also likely that a temporary order will become permanent depending on how compelling reasons are for not having it altered or revoked. 

Therefore, before filing for your pending child custody case, you should understand the process and what criteria must be met for a temporary order to be issued.  You should also understand how the temporary order can be modified when eligibility arises.