I attended a luncheon where the speaker was a local circuit court judge who spoke about bankruptcy and exemption issues in State court proceedings. One of the attorneys asked whether a husband and wife who both worked and together supported two or more children can both claim head of household status to exempt their wages from garnishment. I have always believed and told clients that a family unit may only exempt wages of one person who is the head of household. The judge believed the issue was not decided.The judge stated that she was aware of no case where an appellate court had held that only one person in a family can be head of household where each working parent supports one or more children.
I am aware of courts holding that both a husband/father and wife/mother can exempt their wages as head of household where they are truly separated and living in different permanent residences with different children. Although the issue may not have been ruled upon I still think most courts would find that only one parent’s wages are protected from garnishment where both parents are living under one roof.
I think the intent of the wage exemption statute is to protect the wages of only the primary earning spouse even if both spouse’s income is needed to support their children. The law should balance the family’s needs against the rights of creditors to collect their judgment with the least impact on the family’s dependents.