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A divorce case can take a year or more to be completed.
However, it is not always possible to wait until the resolution of a divorce case for the issues of child custody and access to be resolved.
When a decision needs to be made more quickly, you must make a motion to the court for what is known as temporary child custody (also known as interim child custody).
Temporary ("Interim") Child Custody
In theory, temporary child custody in no way determines the final decision of the court regarding child custody. However, the reality is that it is rare for a court to change a temporary child custody order.
The reasons for this are practical. For starters, to change a temporary child custody order, you would normally need to go to trial. Given that a contested child custody trial can cost upwards of $50,000, very few people are able to afford this.
Even if you are able to afford to take your case to trial, a court is conservative by nature and normally is unwilling to change a temporary child custody order unless there is strong evidence that there are problems and the child is suffering (such as poor grades, severe depression, etc.). This is because children are going through a lot at the time of their parents' divorce, and ensuring stability in the children's lives is one way of minimizing the impact of the divorce on them.
In short, if you are involved in a motion for temporary child custody, your best bet is to prepare as if it were the final decision about custody. This can be difficult, as a motion for temporary child custody can arise very quickly.