What is a Show-Cause Hearing?

Felicia Dye

A show-cause hearing is a legal proceeding that requires a person to come to court and offer clarification or justification for some matter. These proceedings arise when it is suspected that a person violated a court order. If a person's defensive argument is not successful, she can be found in contempt of court. The consequences can include being subject to fines, liens, or having her driver's license suspended.

A person who is found in contempt may be ordered to serve a period of incarceration.
A person who is found in contempt may be ordered to serve a period of incarceration.

The need for a show-cause hearing usually arises when it is believed that a person has violated a court order. That order is often one that arose from a civil case, such as orders to pay spousal support or to adhere to a custody schedule. When this is the case, the insubordination is usually brought to the attention of the court by the party who has been wronged. It is also possible for a third party, who may be referred to as a friend of the court, to expose the potential violation.

Show-cause hearings are most frequently used to allow a person to defend themselves when they have disobeyed a court order.
Show-cause hearings are most frequently used to allow a person to defend themselves when they have disobeyed a court order.

For example, a person may notice that every time a father comes to pick up his daughter, the mother refuses to answer the door. This neighbor may believe that the mother is intentionally violating a visitation order. The neighbor may become a friend of the court by filing a motion that spotlights the violation. Afterward, the mother will be summoned to a show-cause hearing.

There are occasions when a show-cause hearing may result without a citizen complaint. This occurs when the violated order is one that involves interaction with the court, such as failure to pay fines or failure to provide requested information by a specific date. In any case, when the accused reports to court, she will be required to show the cause of her actions.

In some instances, a court may find that the individual is innocent because the violation never occurred. There are instances when a court may excuse a person's actions because there was a valid reason for them. If it is found that a person's cause for violating an order is inexcusable, she may be found in contempt of court.

Even if the violated order was one related to civil proceedings, once a person is found in contempt, she may be ordered to pay a fine or to a period of incarceration. Other possible consequences include having a lien placed on one's property or suspension of licensing to drive or to work in a trade. A person ordered to appear for a show-cause hearing may support her claims with evidence. Although it is not generally required, a person may also choose to be represented by an attorney.

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