Order to Show Cause

In the legal system, an Order to Show Cause is a court order requiring an individual or entity to explain, justify, or prove something. In the U.S., courts frequently use orders to show cause to initiate a court proceeding that needs to be heard outside the usual schedule, such as when a temporary order is being sought. In these cases, the court needs additional information before the judge could make such a decision. To explore this concept, consider the following Order to Show Cause definition.

Definition of Order to Show Cause


  1. An order issued by the court that a party appear in court on a specified date and time to give reasons (show cause) why an order requested by the opposing party should not be made.

What is an Order to Show Cause

An Order to Show Cause (“OSC”) is used in place of a motion in circumstances that require an immediate solution. Where a motion starts the parties on equal footing, as far as the courts are concerned, an OSC requests that the court make a decision, ordering the other party to appear and provide information and evidence why the order should not be made. In many jurisdictions, an OSC is commonly used in child custody matters that require a temporary order to keep the children safe while the custody proceeding moves along at its usual pace. Orders to Show Cause are also commonly used in housing matters, as well as contempt matters.

Difference Between an Order to Show Cause and a Motion

A party filing an OSC is presenting to the judge a request for some type of immediate relief, providing reasons why the court should grant the order. For example, Andrew’s attorney sent discovery requests to his ex-wife’s attorney in the form of interrogatories and a demand for production of documents. Andrew’s ex-wife has failed to provide her responses before the time limit specified in the local rules of civil procedure. Despite additional requests by Andrew’s attorney, the responses are not provided. Andrew’s attorney files an Order to Show Cause asking the judge to order the ex-wife to respond to the discovery requests or face penalties.

Andrew’s ex-wife has two choices: (1) immediately provide responses to all discovery requests, or (2) appear in court to give good cause for not complying. An OSC brings quicker relief, as it shortens the time required for providing notice to the other parties in the case.

How to Obtain an Order to Show Cause

The rules of civil procedure outline strict requirements for making a motion, though individuals seeking immediate relief may find it easier to complete and file an Order to Show Cause form at the court clerk’s office. The Order to Show Cause form requires the identities of all parties to the case, the case number, and the court in which the matter has been filed. The OSC must contain the request being made, or relief sought, by the person filing.

The OSC form must be accompanied by an “Affidavit in Support of Order to Show Cause.” This affidavit is a detailed statement of the circumstances that make it necessary for the filing party to obtain an order quickly. Supporting documents may be attached to the affidavit, which is then attached to the OSC. This document package must be taken to the court clerk, who will assign a hearing date and time. This information will be stamped or written on the OSC package, a copy of which must be served on the opposing party. The time for service is shortened for an OSC, and so the filing party must be diligent in ensuring the documents are properly served on the opposition, and a proof of service filed with the court.

The opposing party must prepare a response, or “answer,” to the Order to Show Cause, stating why he objects to the issuance of the court order requested in the OSC. This response must be filed with the court clerk, and a copy served on the filing party. On the day of the hearing, all parties must appear in court to make their case to the judge, who will then decide the issue, either making an order, or dismissing the OSC. An Order to Show Cause hearing often results in a temporary Show Cause Order dealing with the issue until the case can be resolved in its entirety.

Example Order to Show Cause

Mateo’s ex-wife, Maria, has been violating the custody and visitation order handed down by the court nearly a year ago. Maria continually makes excuses for not allowing the children to visit on Mateo’s scheduled weekends, such as “they had a play date,” or other activities. Failing these excuses, Maria simply “forgot” to bring the children by on several occasions. To make matters worse, Mateo’s friends have been reporting negative comments being made about him by Maria while their children are playing with Mateo’s daughters.

Mateo files an Order to Show Cause asking that primary physical custody be transferred to him, or failing that, an order for Maria to comply with the current custody order or face legal consequences. Mateo fills out the Order to Show Cause form and attaches an affidavit describing the problems he is having, even listing the dates and details of Maria’s failures to obey the custody order. Mateo files this document with the court, and has a copy served on Maria.

Both Mateo and Maria appear at the court hearing that was scheduled 10 days after the documents were filed. Both parties are given an opportunity to tell the judge their side of the story. Maria can then tell the judge her reasons for flouting the court’s order on custody and visitation, and for alienating the children against their father. In such a case, the judge may issue a temporary order changing primary custody to the father, ordering the parents to attend mediation so that the mediator can conduct an investigation into the situation and make a recommendation to the court for a permanent order. More commonly, however, the court will order the non-compliant parent to adhere to the custody and visitation order or be charged with contempt of court. The court still might order mediation after such an admonition.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Affidavit – A written statement made under oath, for use as evidence in court.
  • Demand for Production of Documents – A legal request for documents or other tangible evidence be provided.
  • Discovery – The pre-trial efforts of each party to obtain information and evidence.
  • Interrogatories – A formal set of written questions asked by one party to a legal matter, to be answered by an opposing party.
  • Motion – A formal request for a judge to make a decision in a case.
  • Rules of Civil Procedure – The body of law that specifies the rules and standards followed by the court when adjudicating civil lawsuits.

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