In the United States, a creditor usually has to obtain a court judgment against you before attempting to seize any of your assets. But there are some exceptions to this general rule.

In some cases, a court can issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) or an injunction against a debtor that effectively freezes the debtor’s assets. This frequently happens in divorce cases. Rule 65 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides rules governing injunctions and TRO’s. Most states have a similar rule.

In other countries, it is often easier for a creditor to freeze a debtor’s assets prior to obtaining a court judgment. In England and most other common law countries, courts are more likely to issue a pre-judgment asset freeze to prevent the defendant from transferring assets. This has become known as a Mareva injunction.  The name comes from an English case, Mareva Compania Naviera S.A. v. International Bulkcarriers S.A., 2 Lloyd’s Rep. 509.

So no matter where your assets are, there are some instances in which those assets could be frozen before a judgment is obtained. The key point to remember from all of this?  Asset protection is most effective when done well in advance of any creditor issues.