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How to Get Show Cause Orders | WA Divorce & Family Law

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by Samuel K. Darling, Bellevue Divorce Lawyer

This article explains how to get show cause orders – odd orders parties commonly request in divorce and family law proceedings. If you’re filing a motion for an immediate restraining order, read this article in conjunction with How to Get an Immediate Restraining Order. If you’re responding to a motion set by show cause order, skip to our article on How to Respond to a Motion. Click her for guidance on filing a show cause motion for contempt.

Table of Contents
I. What is a Show Cause Order
II. The Process of Filing and Arguing a Show Cause Motion
III. What if My Return Hearing Does Not Take Place as Scheduled

I. What Is a Show Cause Order?

Often show cause orders have different names, such as an Immediate Restraining Order or an Order to Go to Court. Regardless the name, the function is the same. Show cause orders instruct parties to “show cause” why the court should decide in their favor on a motion. More accurately, a show cause order instructs a party to appear at a hearing and show cause why the court should not grant a motion another party filed.

Many of the most complicated motions are by show cause. This includes motions for immediate/temporary restraining orders, motions for contempt, and motions to vacate prior orders. By way of comparison, party’s usually go to court once for a standard motion – just for the hearing where the court makes a decision on the motion. Show cause orders, on the other hand, involve going to court twice. That is, first one or both parties go to court ex parte to get the show cause order. Then the parties go to court again for a return show-cause hearing, usually two weeks later.

1. Initial Ex Parte Hearing to Get the Show Cause Order. As mentioned, the initial hearing is ex parte. Ex parte means only the moving party (requesting party) might be present, and the hearing is with little or no notice to the other party(ies). This ex parte hearing is where the court makes a preliminary decision on whether to issue a show cause order. Sometimes the show cause order includes preliminary terms that take immediate effect, such as requiring a party to hand over children. The show cause order always sets the location, date, and time for the return hearing.

2. Return Hearing Set By the Show Cause Order. The return hearing is where the court makes a more weighty, lasting decision of some sort. Typically the preliminary relief in the show cause order automatically expires at the time set for the return hearing, but the court can reissue the relief for a longer time period if it sides with the moving party at the return hearing.

II. The Process.

The following is the basic procedure for filing and arguing a motion by show cause order:

1. The Initial Documents You?ll Need.

Generally you initiate a show cause motion by submitting at least the following four categories of documents:

  • A motion. It tells the court and opposing party(ies) what you’re asking for.
  • One or more declarations. These are essentially witness statements explaining the facts you believe the court should know for the motion.
  • A show cause order, sometimes called an Immediate Restraining Order or Order to Go to Court. This tells the court and opposing party(ies) when and where the return hearing will take place. It can also include immediate relief.
  • Proposed Order(s). These are the documents you want the court to sign into effect at the return hearing.

Sometimes more documents are necessary. Usually you can find all required documents oWashington’s Court Forms Website under Family Law > [case-type] > [motion-type]. There, the state has self-explanatory templates under various categories. Find the category that most closely matches your case-type and motion-type.

Once done drafting these documents, make several copies for a total of at least four sets including the originals.


A. Don’t Use the State’s Subjoined Declaration Forms. Typically the state’s motion templates have subjoined declaration sections prompting you to relate facts under penalty of perjury. Don’t use the subjoined declaration sections. They’re too simplistic and stilted to give you a strong chance of winning against a competent opposing party. Instead, draft and submit your own declaration(s), and write something like “see my declaration” on the subjoined declaration sections. Click here for an article on writing declarations in support of a motion.

B. Plan Ahead Before Selecting the Return Hearing Date for the Show Cause Order. You probably need to serve the opposing party around 7-14 days before the return hearing, with the local rules setting the minimum days of advance notice. Schedule the return hearing far enough out to ensure you have time to serve the opposing party prior to the service deadline. Should you fail to serve the other party on time, the hearing cannot proceed.

Also ensure the return hearing isn’t too far out. If you’re requesting immediate relief, the return hearing normally cannot be more than 14 days after the court signs the show cause order. For special circumstances the hearing can be set out longer but not more than 24 days if you’re requesting an immediate restraint.

C. Local Rules. You should always learn about the county’s local superior court rules before filing your motion. You might be able to learn enough by reading the county’s local rules. It’s probably a better idea to speak briefly with a local attorney, LLLT, or family law facilitator. Facilitators are the least expensive option at $10 per session but can only answer basic questions.

D. Don’t Condense Proposed Orders. The state’s forms for orders have check-the-box options. Many people delete the check-the-box sections they don’t select, which makes the form shorter and cleaner looking. It’s called “condensing” the form. Don’t condense proposed orders. The court might order relief differing from your request, and it’s easier to make changes to an uncondensed order with all the potential checkboxes still showing.

2. Ex Parte Hearing. The next step is to ask the judge/commissioner to grant your show cause order at an ex parte hearing. Again, ex parte means the hearing is with limited or no notice to the opposing party. The exact rules for requesting immediate ex parte presentation vary from county to county. As stated previously in this article, you might benefit from speaking briefly with a local practitioner or facilitator.

If you’re requesting something more than a return hearing date, you’ll often need to give the opposing party at least some notice of the ex parte hearing, such as a quick text message saying “I expect to have an ex parte hearing at [state the location, including the room number] at [time and date] regarding [nature of the hearing].” Commonly parties send the text message only 30 to 60 minutes before the hearing, though more advance notice is usually better.

Then present the originals of your motion and supporting documents to the jurist ex parte at the appointed time. Give a set of copies to the other side if he or she is there. The judge or commissioner will expect you to briefly explain what you are asking for and why. If the opposing party shows up in person or on the phone, he or she might have a chance to orally rebut whatever you are telling the judge or commissioner. The judge or commissioner probably won’t take any oral argument in ex parte if your proposed show cause order only sets a return hearing without any immediate relief.

If you are successful, the judge or commissioner will sign your show cause order, granting any immediate relief you requested and setting a return hearing.

3. Filing and Service of the Show Cause Order and Supporting Documents.

A. Filing. After obtaining your signed show cause order, file all your original documents with the clerk of the court. Sometimes the jurist’s assistant will offer to do this for you.

You will need to get copies of the order with the jurist’s signature or stamped copies showing the jurist’s name and the date the order was signed. The clerk’s office often has a stamp bearing the date and the name of the judge/commissioner who just signed your order. You can use the stamp to conform the copies you made in step II(1), above. If not, ask the clerk about how you can get copies of the original order. You should be able to purchase copies for a small charge.

Assemble identical sets of the documents, including the signed order and all the supporting materials.

B. Working Copies. Provide the second set as “working copies” for the judge or commissioner who will decide the return hearing. Ask around at the courthouse to find out where working copies go. There is probably a drop box. Often you will need to stamp the upper right corner of the first page and fill in the stamp’s blanks with routing information. You will know, because there will be a stamp of this sort sitting next to the working copy drop box. Routing information means the date and time of the upcoming hearing and where the working copies should go. You can find out where the document are supposed to go by looking at the show cause order. The documents go to the judge, commissioner, or hearing calendar named there.

When delivering working copies, you might also need to insert the top document into a machine that marks the time and date you dropped off your materials. If so, there should be a machine sitting next to the working copy drop box.

Some counties have electronic systems for submitting and routing working copies. Rest assured, you do not need to use the electronic system if you are a layperson representing yourself.

C. Service on Opposing Party(ies). Serve a set on every party to the case. Often there’s only one other party – your spouse. But sometimes there are more, such as a Guardian ad Litem and/or county prosecutor.

You can find the allowed methods of serving documents in How to Serve Papers in a Washington State Divorce.

D. Your Copies. Keep at least one set of copies for yourself.

4. Responsive and Reply Declarations. The opposing party(ies) might submit responsive materials before the hearing. You can then submit a reply declaration rebutting the responsive materials. Click here for an article on how to draft a reply declaration. Your reply is usually due no later than noon two or three court days before the return hearing. The exact deadline depends on the county’s local rules. As before, make sure to file your reply, provide a stamped working copy of it, and serve your reply on the other party(ies).

5. Confirming the Hearing. In many counties, you must confirm your return hearing about two court days prior to the hearing date. Whether you need to confirm, the confirmation deadline, and the method of confirmation vary from county to county. Again, you might want to speak with a local facilitator. If the county requires confirmation, make sure you do it. Otherwise the return hearing will not take place and any immediate relief in the show cause order will expire, potentially leaving you unprotected.

6. The Return Hearing. Your return hearing will be at the date and time stated in the show cause order. Arrive for the hearing at least fifteen minutes early. Tell the courtroom clerk you are present, and wait for your case to be called. Each party will be allowed to orally argue his or her case for five to ten minutes. Afterwards the judge/commissioner will orally state his or her decision. The winning party will then present orders for the jurist’s signature. You should already have your draft orders ready, but sometimes you’ll need to step out of the courtroom and edit your draft orders with a pen. In that instance, you should show the revisions to the opposing party or opposing counsel and ask him or her to sign the orders in the signature space at the bottom of each document. Then return to the courtroom and present your orders to the judge or commissioner for final approval and/or resolution of any drafting disputes.

7. After the Hearing. Before you leave the courthouse, make or have made at least two copies of any and all orders the judge signed. File the original orders with the court clerk (the judge/commissioner may offer to file the originals for you), keep one set of the copies for yourself, and provide the last set(s) to the other party(ies). If you file the original orders yourself, make sure to file a Law Enforcement Cover Sheet with any restraining orders you won. The court clerk can provide you with a blank Law Enforcement Cover Sheet if you do not bring your own.

If the opposing party(ies) and his/her/their counsel neglects to appear at the hearing, you should arrange to serve any restraining order on the restrained party(ies). See our article on how to serve documents.

III. What if My Return Hearing Does Not Take Place as Originally Scheduled?

As mentioned, your show cause order only lasts until the date the return hearing was scheduled for. If the return hearing does not take place as originally scheduled, any immediate relief in the show cause order expires.

Often this happens when you have difficulty serving the other side on time or you neglect to properly confirm the return hearing. If you simply failed to serve the other side on time but had no confirmation issues, show up for the hearing. The judge or commissioner will probably re-issue your show cause order by handwriting “alias” into the title of the document (upper right corner of the first page) and a new return hearing date. Then repeat the process beginning at step II(3)(a), above.

In the alternative, you can start the process over again at II(2), and the jurist can sign an alias order ex parte. Notably, you can seek an ex parte alias order even if the original show cause order has not expired yet. You might do this if you need to change the return hearing date because you are having difficulty serving the opposing party on time.

That’s it! We hope this was helpful. Our firm believes in making quality legal information available for free on the internet. For more free articles, guides, and videos, visit our website and click the resources tab in the upper right corner.

Or call us at 866-631-0028 to speak with a Genesis divorce lawyer in Bellevue or Everett, Washington.

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