In Divorce, what is an Order to Show Cause?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 14 January 2020
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Divorces can take a long time to be completed with final settlement agreements or orders of child custody, child or spousal support. Sometimes, waiting that long for a settlement agreement isn’t feasible, and individuals may need emergency funds or rulings on child custody right away, especially when the divorce means a total change in their living or financial conditions. In many states in the US, one means of requesting emergency support without having to wait for court dates for a divorce to become finalized, is filing what is called an order to show cause, either with the divorce filing, with the response to the divorce, or separately from either of these.

For instance, in California law, a husband might decide to leave his wife. This could significantly alter the wife’s financial circumstances, which may mean that she is immediately short on money. Whether the husband or wife files for the divorce, the spouse who is in financial need may file an order to show cause in order to request an immediate determination of spousal support until a permanent arrangement is reached. In California, this may mean that the spouse filing the order, especially if she does not have the basic means of support, may receive up to 40% of her husband’s earnings prior to the actual divorce case being heard. It also means that both husband and wife will appear in court to hear a judge’s ruling on the matter.


In most cases, particularly in community property states, the order really doesn’t have to do with fault or why the marriage ended. In fact, in California, no issue of fault can be considered in any case. The main thing is that the person filing the order is asking for a similar set of living circumstances to that which existed before the divorce filing. How much the person is given may be mitigated by several factors. If the person filing the order works, amount of support (40% in California) is reduced by one half of the filing person’s total income. If a wife files the order and makes $1,000 US dollars (USD) per month, and the husband makes $2,000 USD, she’d be entitled to $800 USD of her husband’s salary, minus half of what she makes. In this case, she’d get $300 USD on a monthly basis.

The court may take into consideration the spouse’s ability to live on income that is reduced by an order to show cause, but primarily, the court evaluates the way in which a divorce or separation has altered the filing spouse’s style of living. The person who files the order is generally entitled to more if her manner or style of living is significantly changed by the spouse leaving. It can also address requirements to continue health insurance through the working spouse’s employer.

If a spouse fears that his or her spouse will attempt to remove a child out of state, this is another reason for filing an order to show cause. Decisions about physical custody of children or child support may need to be made long before the divorce can be finalized. Such an order could either create child support on a temporary basis or grant custody rights or refusals to one or both parties.


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Post 11

My husband and I are going through a divorce. My husband suddenly quit his job to take care of his elderly father. He is now claiming he does not have an income and cannot pay any child support. His father was in a nursing home and my husband has moved him into his home. How does a judge look at a situation like this? Thanks.

Post 10

I have been divorced for six years and we have a special needs adult daughter. She is 23. I understand her father does not have to visit, but the child support he gives me is not enough because I have to take all my annual leave for doctor's visits if she gets sick, and if I want to have a weekend off, I need to pay someone to take care of her.

Can I take him back to court? I believe he should be able to help me financially or by him picking her up. Help.

Post 9

I live in California and my situation is rather simple i think, however, some feedback would be appreciated.

I have been married for 21 years and three years ago i fathered a beautiful girl. The mother gave me full physical custody since the time of birth and i am on the birth certificate.

The baby has lived with me and my wife her entire life and now my wife wants to make sure that the biological mother does not come later on and take her away. Should i file an Order to Show cause to get full physical and legal custody for me and my wife?

Post 8

My first wife died from cancer in 2003 and left me with a three year old boy. Later on, I remarried a lady who adopted my son, but has two kids of her own that I did not adopt and whose father is not consistently paying child support.

I have supported the family as the primary money earner for five years leading up to our pending divorce. We are still legally married and I found out that she is having a relationship with Huey Lewis (believe it or not) from Huey Lewis and the News fame (rock band from the late 80s).

What are my rights? She wants money from me, but is engaging in extramarital affairs without the divorced finalized. Does she owe me money since she adopted my son?

Post 7

I filed an Order to Show Cause for Spousal Support, and I am getting a legal separation. On the same day that I filed, my spouse agreed to pay support. What do I do now about the court date set from the Order to Show Cause?

Post 5

I filed for divorce in December, 2008. My husband responded but never paid all the fees (put on payment plan with the court, but he has only paid $25). I want to change the filing from a divorce to a legal separation. How do I do this? Thanks.

Post 4

I have filed for divorce in California. I am the sole money maker in the relationship. Prior to my filing, my husband threatened me with physical harm, and was arrested. I took out a restraining order and a criminal protective order on him, which he violated by trying to break into my home. He is currently incarcerated, for 2 years, and has filed an order to show cause. He receives $600.00 per month from an annuity. Will he likely be granted temporary support?

Post 3

is it possible to file for divorce for one reason and then chnage it to another?

Post 2

I was married to an attorney for 14 years & we divorced in 2000, we live in California. As part of our divorce settlement he was to continue this life insurance policy and keep me as the sole beneficiary until one of us passes on. I have tried unsuccessfully to get the policy information from him & he keeps blowing me off. I have a "gut feeling" he has allowed this policy to lapse, how do I go about taking him back to court & enforcing the court orders which he agreed upon and forcing him to give me the policy information (if it still exists) and if it has in fact lapsed what is my recourse? Please help me!

Thanks, Lori

Post 1

I submitted an order to show cause as my ex-wife violated our divorce agreement and owes me money. My attorney told me that i do not need to appear for this hearing. That it would just be him and my ex (who is not being represented by an attorney) and the judge. Is this accurate? Thanks.

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