Order to Show Cause

An order to show cause can have different implications depending on the area of law to which it applies. Generally, this order, often called an OSC, is a court order that directs a party to appear in court on a specific date. On that date, the responding party must show cause, or provide justification, for why the judge should or should not issue a certain order or make a specific finding. In family law, parties most commonly use show-cause orders in divorce and custody proceedings. Keep reading to delve deeper into some of the many parts of the order to show cause.

What Is an Order to Show Cause?

You’ll likely hear an order to show cause called several different things, such as a show-cause order, a motion for an order to show cause, or a rule to show cause. Los Angeles County refers to the application for this order as a “request for an order to show cause and supporting declaration.”

All these terms refer to the same court mandate — a judge’s order that commands an individual to appear in court at a specific time and date. At that time, the person to whom the court issued the order will have to argue why the court should or should not take an action proposed by one of the parties to the case.

An application submission for an order to show cause is the first step to getting the order. In that application, the person specifies the relief sought and provides supporting facts in the accompanying affidavit or declaration.

Los Angeles County refers to the affidavit as a declaration, a sworn statement in which the applicant lists the reasons why the court should grant the order. If the applicant requests a modification, such as a child support modification, the declaration must describe the change in circumstances to prove the modification. If the judge grants the applicant’s request for an order, that appointment with the judge is known as a show-cause hearing.

Example of a Show-Cause Order

Let’s look at an example of the use of the order to show cause: Two parents have a custody agreement that grants primary custody to the mother and visitation rights to the father, the noncustodial parent. Under the agreement, the mother must bring the children to the father’s home for visitation on Saturday morning.

Mom suddenly stops bringing the kids to Dad’s house on Saturday and claims she forgets at the end of the week. Despite the father’s calls and repeated requests to see the children, the mother never brings the children to visit. At this point, the father can file a request for an order to show cause and support the order with a declaration detailing the mother’s violations of the existing custody order. The father can also ask for some specific relief in his request, such as a court order forcing the mother to obey the agreement, an order instituting a new visitation schedule, or an order that grants him custody of the children.

The court will schedule a hearing for which the mother must appear to explain her failure to obey the custody agreement. Both parents will argue their respective sides in the case. At the show-cause hearing, the judge will find out the facts and make a ruling.

Who Can Request a Show-Cause Order?

Either person in a court proceeding may apply for an order to show cause. The court can also set an order to show cause “sua sponte” (of its own accord). In divorce and custody proceedings, the parties requesting this order are either current or former spouses, parents, or the attorney who files a request on a party’s behalf.

Generally in family law proceedings, the person who applies for the order to show cause is the petitioner; the person to whom the order is served is the respondent. Once the court grants the order, it becomes binding on the respondent. In fact, if the respondent fails to appear in court on the hearing date in the order, the judge has the power to issue a civil bench warrant for that person’s arrest.

Why Request an Order to Show Cause?

You might ask for an order to show cause in any of the following cases:

  • Child custody. If one party continually fails to comply with an existing custody order, the opposite party can ask for an order to show cause to enforce or change a custody agreement.
  • Child visitation. If the custodial parent does not allow the noncustodial parent the visitation time promised in the agreement, the noncustodial parent can ask for an order to show cause to force the custodial parent to comply, to change the visitation schedule, or to grant the noncustodial parent custody of the children.
  • Child support. A child support agency or custodial parent can ask for an order to show cause to compel the other parent to appear in court and explain a failure to make payments as ordered.
  • Spousal or partner support. Much as with child support, one party can ask for an order to show cause to change an existing order or divorce decree.
  • Attorney’s fees and court costs. In cases of divorce proceedings, you may be able to get an order to show cause for need-based attorney’s fees and court expenses.
  • Property restraint and control. An order to show cause can prevent a spouse from selling marital property and can transfer control of marital property to a particular spouse.

The Request Process

You’ll need to complete Form FL-300 to get a court date through an order to show cause in Los Angeles County. If your request has to do with custody or visitation, California law requires you to pursue mediation before or simultaneous with the show-cause hearing.

You’ll supply basic information such as your name, address, and case number (if applicable) on the first page of the form. On the second or third page, you’ll indicate why you’re making the request, such as to change a child support agreement. On the last page, you’ll list the facts in support of your request and sign the document.

Make two copies of the order before filing it with the clerk of court. The filing fee for a family case is $60. When you file the form, the clerk should give you a hearing date. You must then have the other party served, or presented with, a copy of the order in person.

You’ll also need to include a blank Responsive Declaration to Order to Show Cause (Form FL-320). You’ll need to have the other party served at least 16 days before your hearing date. The person who serves the other party — you shouldn’t serve the other party yourself — will also need to complete a Proof of Service (Form FL-330) and file this form with the court.

The Show-Cause Hearing

Both parties must be present on the date of the show-cause hearing and will be able to argue their sides of the case. Bring copies of all forms you filed with the court and any other information you might need, such as proof of income for a child support modification. The hearing’s purpose is to get the responding party to comply with the court’s order if the judge finds that one party is in violation.

An order to show cause is a versatile tool that spouses and parents can use to petition the court when they have a request. Whether you’re going through a divorce, asking for custody, or requesting child support, the order to show cause can bring the court’s power to bear to get another party to cooperate.