If a judgment creditor obtains a writ of garnishment against a bank all of a judgment debtor’s accounts at the bank will be frozen until a court orders the money to be turned over to the creditor. The judgment debtor may raise objections and defenses to the garnishment based upon the ownership of the account or the source of funds in the account. Both the debtor and creditor have the right to discover facts and file court motions before the court issues its judgment about the parties’ rights to the money.
One of our clients has been involved in a bank garnishment dispute for over one year. The debtor claims that the money in the bank represents the debtor’s deposit of exempt wages. The judgment creditor has not yet filed a motion for final determination of the creditor’s rights to any of money in the account. The client wants to know how long his bank accounts can remain frozen and inaccessible while the garnishment case is pending.
Chapter 77 of the Florida Statutes has detailed garnishment procedures and time limits. Courts have consistently ruled that the statutory garnishment rules must be strictly construed and adhered to, and the courts have very little discretion to waive procedures and time limits regardless of the equity involved in a particular case.
Florida’s garnishment statutes provide that a bank garnishment “times out” after six months unless the judgment creditor files a notice of extension for an additional six months. If the creditor does not file with the court a motion for final judgment on the writ within the six months (or 12 months if extended) the writ automatically dissolves, and funds must be released to the bank account owner. These deadlines are not tolled or extended by litigation during the garnishment case.
Garnishment time limits provide defenses to garnishments by inexperienced or inattentive creditors. Many successful defenses to garnishments are based upon the creditor’s failure to comply with the strict statutory procedures of Florida’s garnishment statutes.