These orders are surely the most disturbing judicial orders deputies execute. They are often distressing for everyone present, including the officers charged with the duty to effect the transfer. Custody transfer orders require the sheriff to take physical custody of a child and place that child in the hands of the party directed by the court.
The transfer may be ordered pursuant to a judicial determination that the child has been abandoned or is subjected to or threatened with abuse. T.C.A. § 36-6-219(a). It may be initiated by an order for immediate physical custody, issued because the petitioner has properly registered a foreign decree, and the petition has been verified pursuant to T.C.A. §§ 36-6-229 through 234. Or, where a petition seeking enforcement of a custody determination is filed and the petitioner files a verified application, the court may issue a warrant for immediate physical custody if the child is in imminent danger of serious physical harm or is about to be removed from Tennessee. T.C.A. § 36-6-235(a).
A warrant to take physical custody of a child is enforceable throughout the state and may authorize officers to enter private property to take custody. If required by exigent circumstances, officers may make a forcible entry at any hour. T.C.A. § 36-6-235(e). The officer must serve the respondent with the petition, warrant, and order immediately after the child is taken into physical custody. T.C.A. § 36-6-235(d).
Below are a few guidelines for facilitating child custody transfers that may help protect the child’s physical and emotional safety while minimizing the problems likely to be encountered during the transfer process.