The Rule to Show Cause: A Helpful Order Enforcement Tool in Virginia




Jail time, fines, an order to take a certain action, or an award of attorney’s fees and costs. These are potential consequences of failing to follow a court order. When a party to a case does not comply with a court’s order, filing a motion for a rule to show cause can force compliance. It is a very useful legal strategy in a family law attorney’s toolbox that you may not have considered.


What is a Motion for a Rule to Show Cause in a Virginia family law case?

After the court has entered an order in a case, such as a custody and parenting time order, an order for child or spousal support, or a divorce decree that may incorporate the terms of a marital settlement agreement, the parties must follow the terms of the order. If a party does not follow the terms of the order, the other party in the case may request that the court enforce the order by filing a motion for a rule to show cause.


Examples of Violations of Court Orders Where a Rule to Show Cause Can be Useful

The following is a list of some actions that may warrant a party filing this type of enforcement action (this list is not exhaustive as any failure to follow a court order is actionable):

  • Withholding visitation. A common problem in family law cases involving children is that one parent may often keep the other parent from seeing their children.
  • Failure to execute paperwork to covey property in one party’s name to the other party. If the court requires a (former) spouse to sign over the deed to a property or assign a portion of a retirement account, but there is a refusal to do so, filing a show cause motion against the non-compliant party might be appropriate.
  • Failure to maintain health insurance and pay medical fees. A party may be ordered to maintain health insurance for the children and pay out-of-pocket medical expenses. If this is not done, the other party is likely justified in bringing this matter before the court.
  • Waste and dissipation of assets. Courts often issue orders that neither party may damage or destroy marital property, and yet items are thrown away out of spite.
  • Failure to give proper notice of relocation. Parties are usually required to notify the other party of any upcoming plans to move with 30 days’ written notice. Such moves may have an impact on the other party’s ability to have parenting time with the children or may affect the children’s school location. This is especially true of parents relocating far away, and the other party should be given adequate time to respond to such a plan.


Considerations When Filing a Motion for a Rule to Show Cause

Generally, when a court learns that a party has been willfully disregarding the terms of the court’s order, the judge is not pleased. However, a party filing such an action must also consider whether the complaints are petty. For example, if parenting time is to start at 6:00 pm, but the other parent is late one time and it begins at 6:15 pm., the judge is likely to be irritated that such a minor violation is being brought before the court. Worse yet, filing numerous rather frivolous motions against a party reflects badly on the complainant. On the other hand, a pattern of lateness, such as an hour late for many months, may be worthy of the court’s time. It is a good idea to write down and keep track of court order violations to record patterns and refresh one’s memory later.


It is important when considering whether to file a motion for a rule to show cause that there be an accurate determination of the judge’s reaction. As always, it should advance one’s position and goals within the framework of the overall litigation strategy. The family law attorneys at WhitbeckBennett have the experience and expertise to help you make such decisions in your and your children’s best interests. Don’t hesitate to contact us to see how we can help you with your family law case.


To learn how our team can help you, contact WhitbeckBennett by calling 800-516-3964 or emailing clientservices@wblaws.com.


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