Status Quo

The Latin term “status quo” refers to the existing state of circumstances. In the legal system, a judge has the authority to issue a status quo order to prevent anyone from taking any action until the matter can be heard and resolved by the court. A status quo order preserves the existing situation, so that no party’s position can be compromised or prejudiced until the matter has been resolved. To explore this concept, consider the following status quo definition.

Definition of Status Quo


  1. The existing state or condition of a situation or circumstance.


1825-1835        Latin    status quō: “state in which”

What is Status Quo

Status quo is a Latin phrase shortened from its original “in status quo res errant ante beullm,” which translates as “in the state of which things were before the war.” Status quo refers to an existing state of affairs used most commonly in regards to social, legal, or political situations. When used in a legal context, a judge can issue a status quo order to protect parties involved in a lawsuit from changes that might prejudice the outcome. When this order is issued, the situation stays exactly as it was before the proceedings began, until a judge hands down a permanent judicial decision.

Status Quo in Family Law

Status quo in family law is often used in relation to child custody cases. When a couple separates or files for divorce, there is often conflict over with which parent the children will live, and when they will visit the other parent. If both parents are claiming primary physical custody, the court is likely to issue a status quo order until the issues of child custody and visitation can be resolved by the court. This means that the children are to continue living in their familiar home, continue attending their familiar schools, and continue other familiar life activities.

Status quo in family law often influences the court’s final order for custody, as it is often found that the best interests of the children are served by maintaining normality. Adding a complete change of residence, schools, friends, and other life issues to the mountain of insecurities brought about by the divorce of their parents is seen to have a negative affect on the children.

Setting Aside the Status Quo in Family Law

There are, of course, many situations in which a child custody action has been initiated because the current situation is clearly not in the best interests of the child. A family court judge may alter or disregard the status quo in such situations as:

  • A parent has abused or harassed the child
  • The child would benefit from a new custody arrangement
  • Maintaining the status quo would not be practical
  • A change in custody is required by law

Status Quo Ante

Status quo ante is the shortened version of “status quo ante bellum.” Where status quo involves maintaining a situation in its current state, status quo ante returns the situation to its state on a previous date. In family court, a judge may issue a status quo ante order to return things to their normal state prior to filing the divorce or other proceeding.

For example, Sally and Steve file for divorce, and Steve has taken the couple’s three children and moved out of the house. A custody battle has begun in which both parties are already flinging accusations and insults. The judge is likely to issue a status quo ante order, returning the children to live in their family home with their mother, as here they will be able to attend their current schools, have regular contact with their friends, and maintain their normal routine. The custody battle then proceeds through normal legal channels until a permanent custody order is made.

Status Quo in Labor Law

The use of status quo in labor law varies by jurisdiction, but such an order often concerns collective bargaining. A status quo order in labor law may be issued to prevent the employer from firing an employee for filing a grievance, requiring that the employer maintain the employee’s current wages, hours, and other terms of employment until the matter is legally resolved. During this time, the employer cannot retaliate against the employee by changing his schedule, cutting his hours, or changing his pay rate. If an employer were allowed to do these things, it would discourage employees from filing valid grievances in the future.

This status quo in labor law requirement holds true even if the original agreement has expired, as the company is prohibited from changing the terms and conditions of employment without negotiating with the employees, or with their collective bargaining representative.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Authority – The right or power to make decisions, to give orders, or to control something or someone.
  • Collective Bargaining – A negotiation process between a group of employees and an employer to reach agreements concerning working conditions.
  • Judicial Decision – A decision made by a judge regarding the matter or case at hand.
  • Jurisdiction – The legal authority to hear legal cases and make judgments; the geographical region of authority to enforce justice.

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