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What is an Attachment?

Updated on August 23, 2010

An attachment, in law, is the act of taking, apprehending, or seizing a person, his goods, or his estate by virtue of a writ, mandate, or other judicial order. It is distinguished from the process of arrest because an arrest lies only against the body of a person, whereas an attachment lies often against the property only or sometimes against the body and the property.

In the United States attachment may be defined as taking into the custody of the law the person or property of one already before the court, or of one whom it is sought to bring before the court; it is also a writ for this purpose. To some extent it is of the nature of a criminal process. In some states, at the beginning of an action to recover money, a plaintiff can attach the property of the defendant as a security for the payment of the judgment expected to be recovered; in case of recovery the property is applied in satisfaction of the judgment. But the more usual rule is that there can be no seizure of property, except in specified cases, until the rights of the parties have been settled by judgment of the court. The exceptions are chiefly in cases where the defendant is a nonresident or a fraudulent debtor, or is attempting to conceal or remove his property.

In some states, attachments are distinguished as foreign and domestic- the former issued against a nonresident having property within the jurisdiction of the state, the latter against a resident in the state; jurisdiction over the person or property is necessary for an attachment. An attachment issued under a state law not adopted by Congress, or by a rule of court, cannot be sustained in a United States court.

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