If someone owes you money but doesn't have a lot of assets, one way for you to get the money owed to you is to seek a garnishment of that person's wages. The federal Consumer Credit Protection Act allows you to collect up to 25 percent of the debtor's weekly disposable earnings, or up to 65 percent of these earnings if he owes child support.
Private debts such as credit card debt, private student loans or medical bills require a civil lawsuit. The creditor sues the debtor by filing a complaint. The debtor responds with an answer and the case heads to trial. In many cases the debtor fails to provide an answer, in which case the creditor seeks a default judgment from the court. In some cases, the debtor acknowledges that he owes the debt and does not produce any kind of legal defense. Once the creditor has the judgment in hand, it can file a writ of garnishment.
Filing of a Writ
The debtor must affirmatively seek the court's assistance in receiving the money owed to it. This is accomplished in most states by filing a writ with the court. The writ might be an original filing with the court or prepared on a standard court form. The writ states the basis of the request for garnishment, such as that the debtor owes the money and the judgment has not been satisfied. Include a copy of the judgment as an exhibit to the writ. Additionally, the creditor states that it has a good-faith belief that the debtor is employed with the named employer. Some states require the court clerk to sign the writ while others permit the creditor's attorney to issue the writ. The creditor also might be required to sign an affidavit and pay a fee to the court.
Service of Writ
The debtor must receive notice of the writ of garnishment. This notice must comply with the state's civil rules of procedure, which may require personal delivery by a process server, certified mail or other specified forms of service. The court clerk stamps the writ of garnishment with the court seal. The employer then receives the file-marked writ of garnishment.
Once child support is ordered by the court, the recipient parent can have support withheld from the other parent's paycheck without getting an additional court order or filing a writ of garnishment. Instead, the parent has a competent party to complete a standard income withholding form provided by the Office of Management and Budget. A court, attorney, child support agency or the parent can complete this form. Send the completed form to the other parent's employer with the amount to be withheld noted on the form. This amount should be equal to the amount in the child support order.
If the debtor is part of the military, the creditor must first receive a civil judgment against the debtor. The creditor must then complete an application for involuntary allotment using a form provided by the Defense Finance and Accounting Service. It must send the completed form to this entity. This method allows a creditor to collect up to 25 percent of the military member's monthly disposable pay. For child support, the income withholding form must be sent to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service.
- Consumer Law Center, Inc.: Wage Garnishments
- Oles Morrison Rinker & Baker LLP: Garnishment Procedure in Washington
- Michigan Courts: Garnishment
- Maryland Courts: Request for Garnishment on Wages
- Defense Finance and Accounting Service: Collecting Commercial Debt from a Military Member
- Office of Child Support Enforcement: Processing an Income Withholding Order or Notice
- U.S. Department of Labor: Fact Sheet #30 -- The Federal Wage Garnishment Law, Consumer Credit Protection Act's Title 3 (CCPA)
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