Wage Protection Umbrella: How Large?

Florida Statute 222.11 protects from garnishment salary of unlimited amounts earned by a head of family. The statute defines a “head of family” as someone who provides more than 50% of the support for a child or other dependent. Once a debtor qualifies as supporting a child or dependent  all of his wages are protected from wage garnishment regardless of how much of his earnings are allocated to support of the other person. Who may be an “other dependent” is an interesting question because the term is undefined. Clearly, someone living with the debtor family head, such as a spouse, will qualify as a dependent if they rely on the debtor for more than half of their support. I think a parent living with the family may also be a dependent. But there is no requirement in the statute that the dependent reside in the same house with the debtor.

A client asked me last week if he would be considered a head of family if he supported his mother who lived independently and in a different state if the client provided more than one-half of his mother’s support. I answered that a court would probably defer to an IRS definition of dependent, so that if he could claim his mother on his tax return as a dependent the client would have a good argument. There is a lack of case law on the definition of dependent for purposes of the wage garnishment statute.

Given the Florida court’s policy of liberally interpreting exemption statutes for the benefit of Florida debtors, most courts would protect wages if the debtor actually supported another member of his immediate family. Whether dependents who are more remotely related could be used to earn wage protection is uncertain

Last updated on May 22, 2020

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