What is a Show-Cause Hearing?

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  • Written By: Felicia Dye
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 13 November 2019
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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.

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.

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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