How Does Wage Garnishment Work?

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How Does Wage Garnishment Work?

Generally speaking, wage garnishment is a method enforced by the courts in order to collect money that might be owed by the defendant.  The debt is commonly related to judgments connected with child support, tax debt, criminal fines, and other types of debt. 

What happens with a garnishment order is that the court orders the defendant’s employer (the “garnishee”) to set aside a portion of the defendant’s wages or salary for paying off the debt in increments.  The payments may be made directly to the court, but sometimes they are transferred to an intermediate agency that processes the debt payments. 

The court will send the employer a notice that the defendant is in debt, and that the employer needs to begin garnishing their wages.  It’s usually up to the employer to calculate the amount that needs to be paid, which is generally transferred on a weekly basis.  Failure to follow a garnishment order can result in legal consequences for the employer.

How Does Wage Garnishment Work in a Child Support Setting?

In most cases, a wage deduction is automatically ordered with any new child support order.  However, in the instance that a person owes unpaid child support, the court may impose a specific wage garnishment as a method for collecting unpaid child support

For example, suppose that a defendant was ordered to pay child support.  However, suppose that they were unemployed and couldn’t make the payments for the last four months.  Since they didn’t have a wage to deduct from, they may still owe the payments for those last four months. 

Then suppose that the defendant gets a job and begins collecting a regular paycheck.  Here, a judge may issue a garnishment order to collect a portion of the defendant’s paycheck to cover the outstanding debt they incurred over the previous four months.

What is the Maximum Amount That Can be Garnished?

Federal laws set the maximum amounts for wage garnishments.  Generally, the federal limit is: 25% of the employee’s disposable earnings, or the total amount by which their weekly wage exceeds thirty times the federal hourly minimum wage rate, whichever is lower. 

However, some states set maximum rates that are lower than the federal standards.  Also, some state laws don’t allow wage garnishments for any reason besides child support or tax debt.  In other words, federal and state laws tend to support wage garnishment orders unless the defendant qualifies for a waiver.  Eligibility to be excused from wage garnishment depends on state laws as well as the defendant’s individual circumstances. 

Are There Consequences for Employers Who Don’t Comply With a Garnishment Order?

Yes- an employer who fails to respond to a notice of garnishment can face legal consequences.  This may include a fine, or in serious cases, criminal consequences such as a jail sentence.  Failure to comply with a court-ordered garnishment notice also includes failing to pay the required amount, as well as deducting a larger amount without the defendant’s consent or knowledge.

One common legal issue arises when an employer fires an employee in connection with wage garnishments.  For example, the employer may fire an employee simply because they don’t want to deal with the wage garnishment process.  Federal law imposes fines of up to $1,000 and imprisonment for a maximum of one year for such violations.

Should I Hire a Lawyer if I Need Help With Wage Garnishment for Child Support Debt?

Wage garnishment can present many difficulties for the defendant, and can sometimes lead to negative effects on credit scores.  You may wish to hire a lawyer if you need assistance with wage garnishment and child support.  Your attorney can help defend you in court and can answer questions like “How does wage garnishment work?”  Or, if you are an employer, a lawyer can help ensure that you’re following garnishment requirements, and can represent you in court if a lawsuit arises.

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Last Modified: 06-04-2012 12:09 PM PDT

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