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What are the differences between a motion and an order to show cause

Milwaukee, WI |
Attorney answers 3


Generally speaking, a MOTION, is a request made to the Court to take some specified action or to compell a party to take some specified action, whereas an ORDER is the decree or decision of the Court.

An example may help to illustrate the distinction: If a person (party) involved in a lawsuit (an "action") wants the Court to dismiss the action, that party (usually through the attorney who is representing the party) must submit a MOTION TO DISMISS. This is simply a request that the Court dismiss the action, and the Motion will typically be accompanied by a statement of the legal arguments (a "brief") as to why the Court should dismiss the action.

Nothing in the lawsuit has changed, however, until the Court enters an ORDER, telling the parties and the world wwhat its decision is with regard to the Motion. The Court, for instance, may agree with the arguments presented in the Brief in support of the Motion, and would therefore enter an Order stating that the Court has considered the issues and grants the motion "The action is dimissed ..."

Alternatively, the Court may agree with the opposing party, or may simply disagree with the reasoning presented, and woud therefore enter an Order Denying the Motion to Dismiss.

In short, a MOTION is simply one party's request, but an ORDER is the Courts decision on the issue.

With regard to the query about "show cause," if the Court has entered an Order To Show Cause, then the party must show cause, or the issue will be decided against that party. If there is only a Motion before the Court, then the issue as to whether the party must show cause is still undecided by the Court,and, presumably, open to argument in a hearing.

NOTE: This anwser is provided as generic information only and is not based on any particular or definitive facts. AS such, no legal advice is intended, nor given, nor is representation established through the provision of this information.


A motion and an order to show cause are the same thing. These are both applications to a court for the court to decide something. Typically, an application seeks "relief" during the course of an ongoing case. Relief could be, for example, a forced sale of a home, a custodial flip or payment for a psychologist.

The difference is that a motion is filed and served upon an adversary. The adversary has an opportunity to respond to the motion by filing opposition papers and then appearing on a designated date to argue his cause before the judge. Typically, the judge has 60 days to enter a written order.

An Order to Show Cause is filed, signed by the judge first, and then served upon an adversary. The "order" portion of the Order to Show Cause may include a temporary restraining order preventing the adversary from doing something - like draining out an account that is in controversy. This type of application is very fast and it is created and signed before the adversary ever gets notice of it.

That is the key difference between these two types of applications: notice to the adversary.

Many divorces commence with an order to show cause where the litigant wishes to impress upon the court the emergent nature of the grounds for the divorce. Also, orders to show cause typically include the following kinds of relief sought: disclosure, attachment, Failure of Title, arrest of judgment debtor, Review of Ex Parte Orders, Orders of Attachment, Temporary Restraining Order, Vacate or Modify Temporary Restraining Order, Habeas Corpus Petition, Seizure of Chattel, Taxation without Notice, Security for Costs and Sale of Personal Property.

When you get an order to show cause, read the first few pages very carefully. These pages may contain an "ORDER" for you to do something or not to do something. Failing to follow the "ORDER" will subject you to a finding of contempt.

When you get either one of these, go see your attorney quickly.


A motion is the standard way to seek certain forms of relief from a court. An Order to Show Cause is often a quicker way to seek the same relief. It usually has some provision which directs you to do something or to refrain from doing something until you go before the court. Order to Show Cause. A Judge will sign an Order to Show Cause to hurry up a matter when there is something serious that needs to be addressed quickly, such as a situation where a mother believes that the father is going to leave the state with their child. The court may sign an Order to Show Cause, with an order in it which prevents the father from leaving the state with the child or grants the mother temporary custody. The court will require the mother to have sworn proof in her application for the Order to Show Cause of the father's intent before it will grant this temporary relief.

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