DEFINITION of 'Attachment'

Attachment is a legal term referring to the action of seizing property in anticipation of a favorable ruling for a plaintiff who claims to be owed money by the defendant.

BREAKING DOWN 'Attachment'

Attachment is a preliminary procedure. The property is seized before a final ruling is delivered. The seizure may prove unwarranted if the court rules in favor of the defendant. Attachment may be used as a form of provisional remedy to the plaintiff.

Often real estate, vehicles and bank accounts are seized under these circumstances. A judge will seize such property when there is a good chance that the plaintiff will win the case and a high probability that the defendant will flee and not pay a court-ordered settlement. For example, a judge may order the bank assets of a defendant to be seized to prevent them from transferring them to offshore accounts or block other attempts to move ownership of property outside of the court’s jurisdiction. A defendant might try to sell their property to prevent a plaintiff from claiming it in court.

Ways Attachment Is Applied in Legal Disputes

Attachments come into play in various types of civil cases. Contentious divorce proceedings may raise concerns that one party may seek to remove their assets from the court’s authority. Defendants accused of fraud could attempt to transfer ownership or control of their assets to leave plaintiffs with no means of finding relief.

The use of attachment originated as a means to compel a defendant to appear in court and answer for the allegations brought against them. The procedure has since been expanded to offer some provisional remedy to plaintiffs and as a jurisdictional predicate. A court may use attachment to seize property such as real estate or vehicles based on such reasons as the defendant doing business in the state, the defendant being a resident of the state, or the commission of wrongful acts in the state.

Attachment still requires a hearing and other procedures to be followed before the assets or property may be seized by the court. The authority of the court might also be constrained if real estate or other property in the state is the only legal connection the defendant has to the state where the case will be heard. The court under such circumstances could only grant the plaintiff an award up to the value of the property that is in the state.

If the attachment proves to have been unnecessary, the court must pay the defendant a bond to cover any damages the seizure caused.

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