What Is A Writ Of Bodily Attachment, And Why Are They Used?

Updated April 15, 2024by Regain Editorial Team
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Experiencing with relationship or legal stress?

Writ of bodily attachment may sound like a strange term if you have never heard it before. Yet, knowing what it means can save you from many negative consequences. If you pay or receive child support, it is something you really might want to learn.

A writ of bodily attachment is a writ that comes from a court. It authorizes a sheriff or other law enforcement officer to arrest someone for civil contempt. The person is then physically brought before the court to resolve the issue that prompted the writ to be issued. Until their court date, they may be held in jail for whatever length of time the state specifies.

What is a writ?

A writ is an order that comes from a child support hearing officer, a district court judge, a magistrate court judge or a bankruptcy court judge. It was traditionally in the form of a paper document that was sent to a police department. Now, the writ may be in electronic form, but a paper copy is given to the person being arrested.

What is civil contempt?

Civil contempt means failure to fulfill the orders of a civil court. Often, a court cites contempt for failure to make a required appearance in court. However, it can be ordered for any failure to follow court orders. Thus, a writ of body attachment can also be called an order of commitment for civil contempt or a warrant for civil action.

Writ of bodily attachment vs. writ of body attachment

You may hear some people use the term "writ of bodily attachment" and others call it "writ of body attachment." It sounds confusing, but the two terms mean the same thing. The official name it is called typically depends on the state in which it is issued.

Does the law allow arrests for civil offenses?

For many years, it was unclear whether officers could take someone into custody or practice civil arrest for violating a civil court order. A court ruled on this question in the case of U.S. v Phillips, a case leading to a current Florida statue, in which Ted Phillips was arrested because he failed to pay child support as the court had ordered him, therefore practicing contempt of court. 

The defendant's lawyer argued that the arrest violated his Fourth Amendment rights. However, the court ruled that a writ of bodily attachment was a valid warrant. The defendant stayed in jail until he could pay his child support.

Does a writ of body attachment authorize a search?

U.S. v Phillips cleared up another question, too. The man who was arrested in the case was a drug dealer suspected of murder. While the police were at his residence looking for his late child-support, they searched his belongings. Phillips claimed that the police had no authority to search since the writ was for a civil complaint.

However, once again, the judge ruled in favor of the police. He stated firmly that the Fourth Amendment supports a writ of bodily attachment and that searches could be conducted just like with any other arrest.

When are writs of bodily attachment used?

A writ of bodily attachment can be used anytime you violate a civil court order. They are often used to enforce child support orders.


There are other uses, too. A writ of bodily attachment can be issued for:

  • Failure to pay child support as ordered.
  • Failure to appear at court in a civil matter as required.
  • Failure to pay alimony.
  • Failure to pay any amount ordered by a civil court.
  • Failure to obey any civil court order.

Why is not paying child support considered contempt?

Simply put, not paying child support is contempt because it is something the court has ordered you to do. By not doing it, you would be disobeying the court order. The offense is not between the plaintiff and the defendant anymore, but rather an offense against the court itself.

For many years, child support orders were not as rigorously enforced as they are now. Several factors have prompted the courts to be more active in making sure people pay their child support.

One of the main factors was the fact that people who were owed child support had to get public assistance to survive without those needed funds to raise their child. Along with the movement to decrease funding for public assistance, people who had gotten by without paying child support were held accountable for it.

Even if you cannot pay the child support, you are still responsible for it and could face criminal contempt. You may be ordered to go to job training or have a job within a certain period. Then, when you are working, you will still have to pay both the current amount due and the amount that is in arrears.

Can you fight a writ of bodily attachment?

There are some defenses against a writ of bodily attachment. We recommend talking to your legal counsel to determine if you or someone you have an order against has a workable defense.

It is also important to note that a person cannot be found in contempt if they are unable to meet the demands of the court. For example, if a person had no financial means to pay child support, they could use the "impossibility defense." However, if it turns out that it would have been possible for them to make the payment, the defense will most likely fail.

The most decisive way to fight a writ of body attachment is to pay the amount ordered. If you have already been taken to jail, you can get out as soon as the money is paid.

Writs of Body Attachment for Child Support Enforcement

A writ of bodily attachment does allow the court to make sure the person who has disobeyed a child support order to either pay the purge amount or go to jail. There are some other benefits, as well as some drawbacks in certain situations.


The following could be benefits of body attachment orders:

  • You may have a better chance of receiving child support from someone who owes it to you.
  • For the person who is arrested, it may reduce worry as they face the issue directly.
  • If you owe child support and cannot pay, the court can direct you in how you need to proceed from there.


There can be some drawbacks to the writ of bodily attachment, but they are usually minor. You can deal with these drawbacks more easily with help from a mental health counselor. Here are some potential issues that could come up from a writ of bodily attachment being issued:

Experiencing with relationship or legal stress?
  • If you are hesitant to cause a burden on someone who owes you child support, you may have guilt feelings. However, those feelings are likely not justified if your child's welfare is at stake. The best thing you can do is to overcome those feelings could be to seek out the help of a qualified psychotherapist.
  • If you owe child support, you cannot put it off anymore once you have taken in on a bodily attachment writ. Yet, you do owe the money. For you, it may make sense to resolve the issue before your debt mounts any more.

Societal effects

The change in the court's attitude toward enforcing child support has been a monumental breakthrough for parents, children, and the national society. More parents get the child support that has been ordered. These parents may be relieved of financial stress. This can also benefit children, because they can then have what they need to survive and thrive, and their custodial parent may be more relaxed.

With these problems solved, fewer factors can contribute to child neglect and abuse. Another effect is that, typically, fewer single parents have to work two jobs to get by, so they can be more physically and emotionally available for their children. Children can have what they need to do better at school and become productive members of society.

Even those who owe child support can benefit. If they are forced to deal with the child support issue directly, they can do what needs to be done instead of running from the responsibility with fear and worry. 

Learn more about bodily attachment from a professional

Child support issues can be difficult for all people involved. With all the stress that can come with the writ of bodily attachment process, you may become anxious, depressed, or notice symptoms of other mental health issues.

An easy, affordable way to deal with child support stress can be to talk to a licensed mental health counselor at Regain. With online therapy, you do not have to go out to an office, but you can have therapy sessions wherever you have an internet connection. You may even notice that talking to someone online, you can feel more comfortable opening up than if you were sitting in front of someone.

And if finances are a concern right now, then note that online therapy tends to be cheaper than in-person, traditional therapy.

The best thing you can do if you owe child support may be to get help before there's any need for a bodily attachment process to begin. You can overcome your distress about the situation and learn how to do positive problem solving to take care of it before it gets that far.

When you are waiting for someone else to send you child support, it can be common to feel that you are powerless to get what you need. Through therapy, you can learn to take back the power that is available to you, so you can live the happiest, most peaceful life possible before and after the child support comes.

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