What is a Writ of Attachment

A writ of attachment is a form of prejudgment process in which a court orders the attachment or seizure of property specifically described in the writ. The property is seized and maintained in the custody of a designated official, who is usually a U.S. Marshal or law enforcement officer, under court supervision.

BREAKING DOWN Writ of Attachment

A writ of attachment is generally used to freeze assets of a defendant pending the outcome of a legal action. That is, the plaintiff obtains a contingent lien on the defendant's assets that can be exercised should the plaintiff be successful in obtaining a judgment against the defendant. There are a number of different types of attachment, including garnishment, replevin and sequestration.

In debt collection outside of bankruptcy action, a writ of attachment from the civil court system is one tool available to creditors. It allows plaintiffs to place a legal claim on a defendant's assets early on in the judicial process before a judgment is even entered.

This form of judicial lien provides a two-fold benefit as it protects the plaintiff's right — and ability — to collect on any future judgment. It also provides leverage to negotiate a settlement with the defendant earlier in the process.

Most jurisdictions at the state and federal level allow plaintiffs to obtain writs of attachment, although the agencies and procedures involved may differ. Typical courts require a claim be:

  • One for money, based on a contract;
  • Of a fixed amount or an amount that is readily ascertainable;
  • Unsecured or not fully secured; and,
  • Of a commercial nature

To obtain a writ of attachment — as with any form of judicial relief, you must first file a civil lawsuit before a court has any authority to take action on your behalf. This requires filing and serving a complaint for recovery of the debts owed to you or your business. After that, or simultaneous with these actions, you can initiate a proceeding to obtain a writ of attachment, usually requiring a hearing before the court.