What is a Body Attachment in Divorce?

In some particularly contentious divorces, or in cases where one of the divorcing parties resists cooperating or feels overwhelmed by the frequent demands by an ex-spouse to return to court, they may encounter a “Body Attachment” warrant if they fail to appear in court as required. A body attachment in California may also result from unpaid child support. 

Whether you’ve been issued a body attachment warrant or you have a resisting spouse or ex-spouse who may require a body attachment to make their court appearance, you likely wish to know exactly what this intimidating-sounding order entails. What is a body attachment in California divorce court and how does it work?

What is a Body Attachment Warrant in California Divorce?

A writ of body attachment is a type of bench warrant used as a process to bring a person to court once they are in contempt of court for failing to appear at a hearing or for other instances of civil contempt. It grants authorization for the police to arrest the person in contempt and detain them until it’s time for them to appear in court for a scheduled hearing — typically within 48 hours. Body attachments are used in both civil and criminal cases. In civil cases, this type of arrest is a “civil arrest” because it isn’t related to criminal charges. A judge may also issue a body attachment in other cases of divorce-related contempt, such as failure to pay child support or spousal support. The order keeps the person in contempt in court custody until a scheduled hearing takes place.

In civil cases, a writ of body attachment is only served within the state of California or if the defendant is in another state but within 100 miles of the district courthouse.

What Steps Should I Take If I’ve Been Issued a Body Attachment Warrant?

In some cases, a judge may send a notice requiring you to attend a scheduled divorce hearing with a warning of a body attachment warrant if you fail to appear. This typically occurs only for those with a history of failure to appear. A court may use a writ of body attachment any time you are in violation of a court order. In other cases, you might not receive a warning or notice. If you’ve failed to appear at civil court hearings or failed to pay child support, you could find yourself issued a body attachment warrant. While it’s always best to appear in court when you’ve been directed to do so, if you do find yourself the subject of a body attachment warrant, the following steps can help:

  • Consult with your family law attorney and ask if they recommend a criminal defense attorney for your case
  • Ask if the judge can recall the warrant before it’s issued in response to your lawyer scheduling a court appearance for you
  • Ask your lawyer to investigate the body attachment order to determine if a prosecutor is planning a criminal arrest for your failure to appear and to argue against it if a warrant is in progress
  • Ask your lawyer to argue on your behalf against the body attachment warrant

What Happens if I Ignore a Body Attachment?

If you find yourself the subject of a body attachment, you should take it seriously and contact your lawyer. Ignoring a body attachment warrant results in marshalls locating and forcibly detaining you, even if it requires damaging property such as kicking in a door. It could also result in physical harm if you resist. Remember, though the enactment of a writ of body attachment can be intimidating, you are not going to jail indefinitely, you’ll only be held there until you’re compelled to attend the hearing you’ve ignored or until you arrange to pay the child support you owe.

Speak to one of San Diego’s premier divorce attorneys about how to avoid a writ of body attachment in the future, for example, by petitioning for a modification of child support orders if you’re unable to make payments due to a significant and ongoing change in your circumstances.