What Is A Writ Of Bodily Attachment & How Does It Work?

Medically reviewed by Paige Henry, LMSW, J.D.
Updated October 20, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Those who have children with a former partner may be familiar with the challenges of the court system and child custody arrangements. Some people have experienced being dragged to court with subpoenas, show clauses, and other writs. Whether it’s because of an angry ex determined to extort money or because of a court system that’s only trying to act in the best interests of the child, the battle of custody can be tough. Most custody cases are filled with legalese which can be difficult to understand. Working through a custody case isn’t the only time you’ll hear the term “writ of bodily attachment,” but it’s one of the most common situations in which this sort of attachment term applies.
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Types Of Court Orders

A writ of attachment is considered a service of process, which is legal speak for a service performed by an entity for the court. The word “writ” is a command by the court, and it comes from the Anglo-Saxon word “gewrit.” It can apply to any terms, but in general, it’s a formal declaration from a judicial jurisdiction. Depending on where you live, this could mean the court, the government, or even the local sheriff’s department. In most situations, the court is commanding a law enforcement agency to take some sort of action, though it’s usually a command to arrest a person.

Many people have heard of the terms “subpoena” and “warrant.” After the writ of bodily attachment, these are the most recognized types of writs. The judiciary body issues a writ of bodily attachment to the U.S. Marshals Service or to another law enforcement body that has the authority to detain a person. When this happens, the warrant is not for an arrest; instead, it’s for civil disobedience to a court order. An example would be someone who has been called for contempt of court or for failure to appear. It’s also called a “civil arrest” because there are no criminal charges against the person, but they’re still being detained. However, this is not considered a citizen’s arrest because it is conducted by law enforcement.

What Is A Writ Of Bodily Attachment?

A writ of bodily attachment is specifically issued by the court to commit or detail a person of civil contempt.

It’s usually issued by a judge from the clerk of the court, and then it’s served by the U.S. Marshals Service. When serving, the Marshals will find the person named and then take them into custody, so they can be brought forcibly (if needed) to court as soon as possible. Usually, this only happens when the person has held up court proceedings by making no effort to come to court on their own despite being notified.

However, a person can be given a writ of bodily attachment while present at a court hearing if they’re found in contempt of court and remanded. When this happens, there’s no need to find them. They will simply submit proof of service to the court, which is proof that the person in contempt has been remanded.

How The Process Of Writs Works

A person subject to a writ of bodily attachment must have been notified of the original motion and hearing before the court. Despite this notification, they must not have appeared in court or must have willfully disobeyed previous court rulings on the subject. In the case of child support motions, the court will determine if the contemnor failed to pay based on a previous order. This can also apply if the person has only made partial payments. Even if the contemnor is present and can pay for the child support, they will likely be remanded anyway because the non-payment was by choice rather than necessity.

If the contemnor is not present, the court will issue a writ of bodily attachment and direct the person to be brought to court within a specified amount of time (usually 48 hours), so the court can determine whether the obedience was willful or not. They will not rule on the case itself, merely whether the contemnor failed to adhere to the previous ruling by choice or by necessity. This distinction will determine the court’s future actions on the case.

What To Do If You Have Been Issued A Writ


If you’ve been issued a writ of attachment, do not ignore it, or you’ll eventually have Marshals coming to find and detain you. In extreme cases where people have gone on the run, they may avoid being caught for years, but most people are found eventually. If this happens, the consequences can be much worse. Should you have a writ of bodily attachment issued against you, it can be important to turn yourself in to the local jail or police station as soon as possible.

Should Marshals be dispatched to find you, they may detain you forcibly. This means you could get hurt in the process, and your residence could be damaged if, for example, they must kick down the front door if you refuse to come out. In other words, there can be severe consequences for ignoring a writ.

A writ of attachment does not mean you’re going to jail, only that you will remain in jail until you’re seen by the court. It’s possible that you forgot your initial court appointment or maybe you’ve been struggling to make payments. Regardless of the situation, it’s important to tell the court your side of the story, and that can’t happen if you’re not there.

Alternatively, you can pay the clerk of the court for purging and the costs of the writ of attachment along with any outstanding balance. To do this, contact the clerk of the court and ask if you have a purge amount that can be paid as soon as possible. Paying off what it is you owe can keep you from going to jail. You can carry your receipt of payment with you as proof that the writ has been satisfied and terminated. It may also be wise to have a lawyer with you when you make this payment because officers who have been dispatched with your writ of bodily attachment will not be instantly notified of the change, so it may take a while before the court withdraws or vacates the writ.

Finding out a writ of bodily attachment has been issued to you can be very stressful. However, taking the proper steps to make things right again can help you avoid further issues. 

How Do I Remove A Writ Of Bodily Attachment?

Even if the court has been satisfied, you may not be immediately released if you have been remanded. First, certain parties must release you from the written order, and there may have been more than one judiciary body involved. This may mean that even if the department’s requirements have been fulfilled, you won’t be released until all court bodies are notified, and the case is cleared. To remove the writ of bodily attachment, you’ll need to file a motion with the court for a hearing.

This motion brings the matter before the judge, so the court can be notified that the contemnor has not been released even though the requirements have been met. The court will then decide if the writ of attachment can be removed or if there are still outstanding elements from the other judiciary bodies.

Writs Of Attachment And The Fourth Amendment

Until recently there was some legal gray area about whether a civil written order and a criminal warrant allowed officers the same rights to search a contemnor. After all, the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that a person has rights against unreasonable search and seizure, including warrants. However, in the case of U.S. vs. Phillips in 2016, it was determined that a civil written order, like a writ of bodily attachment, is still subject to the same arrest procedures as those of a criminal arrest.

Phillips, the defendant in this case, was arrested for possessing a firearm as a felon while he was being apprehended for a writ of attachment. He was subsequently jailed. His lawyer argued that because the writ of attachment was a civil procedure, the officers had no right to search the defendant as a criminal arrest would require. Therefore, the firearm was found through an illegal search. The court subsequently defined the written order as being no different from a warrant for arrest. In this case, the requirements for a written order were higher than those of a warrant in Florida (where the case took place), so Phillips lost the case.

Who To Contact

If you’re dealing with court cases, it’s likely you already have an attorney. If you don’t, you may ask for one to be appointed for you by the court or get one yourself. Aside from the court, this is the first person to contact when you have a writ of bodily attachment. However, many people don’t realize they’re under a writ of bodily attachment until the court sends Marshals to find them, especially if they forgot a court date or didn’t know about it in the first place. In this case, you’ll want to call your lawyer as soon as possible.

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Online Counseling With BetterHelp 

Online therapy can be a helpful support option for parents who are attempting to work through the fighting and discomfort that can accompany a divorce or separation. It can also be useful for those dealing with a court order. BetterHelp is an online counseling platform with thousands of licensed counselors who are experienced in a variety of areas. Divorced couples and families can attend therapy from a distance, which can make session attendance less painful and/or difficult. Online counseling is flexible, allowing you to pick from a variety of times and reschedule if necessary. If you are already coping with the struggle of being served a writ of bodily attachment, having the ability to work with a therapist on your schedule could bring some comfort to your life.  

The Efficacy Of Online Counseling 

Online therapy has been proven effective in treating parents who are coping with separation or divorce. One study, published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, shows that an internet-based intervention improved symptoms in participants experiencing grief, sadness, anger, and isolation. The study also found that even when symptoms were severe, these improvements in patient condition lasted for several months after treatment.

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A writ of bodily attachment does not necessarily mean you’re going to jail, but you do have to show up at court. For most people, it’s not worth avoiding when the alternatives to the attachment could be much worse. Being issued a court order such as this can be very stressful, and it may be difficult to find people to confide in. Participating in online counseling can allow you to get support and care no matter where you find yourself and despite what you’re going through.

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