What to do if wages garnished

Guide to Florida Wage Garnishment

What Is Wage Garnishment?

A wage garnishment is the legal process where a judgment creditor can take part of your salary to collect on its judgment. The garnishment starts with a court order and is a common method used by creditors to collect unpaid debts.

Limits on Wage Garnishment

Florida law limits how much can be garnished from your paycheck. Here are the rules:

  • A creditor can garnish 25% of your salary to satisfy an unpaid judgment.
  • Earnings from a head of household are exempt from wage garnishment.
  • A head of household is someone who provides more than 50% of the financial support for a family member.

How Does Wage Garnishment Work in Florida?

Wage garnishment is governed by both federal and Florida law. Here’s how it works:

  1. Exemptions and Protections:
    • Head of Household: In Florida, individuals who provide more than half of the support for a child or other dependent are generally exempt from wage garnishment. This is known as the “head of household” exemption.
    • $750 Weekly Exemption: Florida law also protects debtors by ensuring that individuals who qualify as head of household may have their wages garnished only if they earn more than $750 per week, and then only if they agree in writing to allow the garnishment.
  2. Types of Debts Subject to Garnishment:
    • Federal Debts: Wage garnishment for federal debts such as back taxes, student loans, or child support can exceed the limits set by state law.
    • Support Obligations: Garnishments for alimony or child support can seize up to 50-65% of disposable earnings, depending on specific circumstances, including whether the debtor is supporting another spouse or child.
  3. Procedure for Garnishment:
    • Court Order: Most wage garnishments require a court order, particularly for credit card debts or other judgment-related debts.
    • Notification: Debtors must be formally notified of the garnishment, which provides an opportunity to contest it based on their exemption status or other legal grounds.

What Type of Money Can Be Garnished?

Earnings means salary, hourly wages, bonuses, commissions, and other forms of employee compensation. A wage garnishment does not apply to independent contractor payments.

Steps to Wage Garnishment

The first step is for a judgment creditor to file a Motion for a Continuing Writ of Garnishment. The motion is filed in the same court and judge that issued the underlying money judgment.

The creditor files the garnishment motion ex-parte, which means without advance notice. The judge will ordinarily grant the writ of continuing wage garnishment. Then, the creditor sends the continuing garnishment order to your employer.

Once an employer receives the garnishment order, the creditor must send you a copy of the court papers, including the creditor’s garnishment motion, the court’s garnishment order, and a claim of exemption form.

An employer must apply a wage garnishment immediately and deduct appropriate portions of your earnings. The employer has 20 days to file an answer to the writ and serve a copy of that answer to the creditor and employee.

Some debts bypass the above process. If you owe money for income taxes, child support, or student loans, your wages can be garnished without a court order.

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Wage Garnishment Laws

The wage garnishment law in Florida is found in Chapter 77 of the Florida Statutes. Here are the rules:

  1. The amount that can be garnished from wages is limited to the lesser of 25% of disposable earnings or the amount by which a debtor’s weekly income exceeds 30 times the federal minimum wage.
  2. If the debtor provides more than half the support for a child or other dependent, they are considered a “head of family.” They may be eligible for an exemption that reduces or eliminates wage garnishment.
  3. Certain types of debts, like child support, alimony, taxes, and student loans, can take priority over other debts in wage garnishment.
  4. You can contest a wage garnishment in court by claiming exemptions or making procedural arguments.

How to Stop a Wage Garnishment

To stop wage garnishment, a judgment debtor must (1) review the writ for procedural mistakes, (2) file a claim of exemption, (3) gather all documents in support of the claimed exemption, and (4) attend the final hearing on the exemption.

The debtor must file the claim of exemption within 20 days after receiving the notice.

The head of household exemption is the most common exemption from a continuing wage garnishment. You must use your recent bank statements, W2 statements, tax returns, and other documents to show that you provide more than 50% support to a dependent or eligible person.

Florida wage garnishment laws are strictly enforced. The garnishment statute requires the creditor to follow complicated requirements and procedures, including several required notices and deadlines. You may file a motion to dissolve a garnishment for any procedural defect in the creditor’s administration of the writ.

Tip: Sometimes a creditor will voluntarily dismiss a wage garnishment if you or your attorney convinces the creditor judgment debtor may be able to spend down assets that cannot be protected while growing protected assets.

How Long After a Judgment Can Wages Be Garnished?

A judgment in Florida is enforceable for 20 years. Therefore, a judgment debtor’s wages can be garnished for the entire 20-year lifetime of the judgment.

A single writ of garnishment served on your employer will garnish all your salary and wages as they become payable in the future until the judgment is satisfied, you leave your employment, or the garnishment is dissolved.

Garnishment writs directed at other debts or compensation, such as rents or payments to an independent contractor, apply only to payments due on the day the writ is served upon the garnishee. There are no continuing garnishments against any debts other than employment earnings.

Wage garnishment laws in Florida

Exemptions to Wage Garnishment

The most common exemption to garnishment is the head of household exemption. Other exemptions include social security, worker’s compensation, pension payment, life insurance benefits, and disability income.

Wage garnishment is not permitted against a debtor who qualifies as the head of household. Head of household law is complex. A debtor who receives notice that their wages have been garnished must prove entitlement to the head-of-household exemption.

These Florida garnishment exemptions are provided for in Section 222.11 of the Florida Statutes. Other exemptions could apply, but they are trickier to assert.

In addition to claiming any applicable exemptions, you must see if the creditor has properly followed Florida wage garnishment procedures. The garnishment laws give the creditor strict deadlines for providing certain notices and other documents to you as it tries to garnish your wages. If it misses the deadlines, you might have a good reason for the court to dissolve the continuing writ of garnishment.

A garnishment lawyer will typically help you identify any mistakes and assert your defenses in a motion to dissolve the garnishment.

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Head of Household Exemption Form

The head of household exemption form is another name for the Claim of Exemption form. You claim a head of household exemption from wage garnishment on a Claim of Exemption form provided by the garnishing creditor.

After your wages are garnished, you mail the exemption form to the court and then wait for the court to schedule a hearing on the head-of-household exemption.

Keep in mind that these exemptions are not automatic. If you do not properly claim and assert the exemptions in your defense, the creditor can continue to garnish your wages.

Some people think they can pre-empt a wage garnishment by asserting their head of household exemption in advance. Florida law does not permit this. You can only claim a head of household exemption after the creditor has sought to garnish your wages.

Important: While a head of household can claim exemption to wage garnishment in Florida, the Claim of Exemption form must be filed within the time allowed or else the exemption is lost.

Waiver of Head of Household Exemption

A debtor may waive the head of household exemption at the beginning of a commercial relationship by signing a waiver form. Many lenders customarily require new credit customers to waive their head of household protection.

Borrowers should be aware of the consequences of exposing otherwise exempt wages to garnishments in the event of credit default.

Federal Limits to Garnishment

Under federal law, garnishments cannot be for more than 25% of your disposable income. If there are multiple wage garnishments, the combined total of all garnishments cannot be more than 25%. Your disposable income means your take-home pay after taxes. Voluntary withholding for retirement accounts is included in disposable earnings.

Debtors who are not head of household or who have waived their head of household garnishment protection may have their wages garnished only up to limits allowed by federal consumer law.

Federal law allows greater amounts to be garnished to enforce tax debts or court-ordered domestic support obligations. There is a 50 percent ceiling for domestic support garnishments.

This means that a former spouse seeking to collect alimony or child support payments can garnish up to 50% of the paying spouse’s disposable income. The 50% alimony and support limit must include any disposable income already garnished by the paying spouse’s other judgment creditors. An additional 5% can be garnished to collect alimony more than 12 weeks past due.

There are different garnishment limits for debts owed to the United States, such as delinquent student loans. For example, federal agencies can garnish 15% of a debtor’s disposable wages to pay delinquent non-tax debts owed to a federal agency, including student loan debt.

Federal law protects the employment of people subject to wage garnishment. Federal law prohibits an employer from firing an employee whose earnings are subject to garnishment for any one debt, regardless of the number of levies made or proceedings brought to collect that one debt. The same law does not prohibit discharge because an employee’s earnings are separately garnished for two or more debts.

Dissolving a Wage Garnishment When Exemption Circumstances Change

Suppose you were not head of household when the wage garnishment judgment was entered. However, two years after entry of the garnishment judgment, you have a child and provide most of the financial support for that child.

The Florida garnishment statute only outlines a procedure by which you can assert the head of household exemption before the writ of garnishment is reduced to a judgment against the garnishee. The statute does not provide any mechanism for filing a claim of exemption after the garnishment has been reduced to judgment.

In this circumstance, you could file a motion for relief from judgment under Rule 1.540 of the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure. The rule explains that a person can ask the Court for relief from a judgment (including a garnishment judgment). See, for example, Barnett Bank of South Florida, N.A. v. American Medical Exp. Corp., 671 So. 2d 819 (Fla. 3d DCA 1996); Antuna v. Dawson, 459 So. 2d 1114, 1118 (Fla. 4th DCA 1984).

Frequently Asked Questions

How long do wage garnishments last?

A continuing wage garnishment lasts until the judgment is paid in full. If you stop working for that employer, the creditor must file a new wage garnishment at your new job.

How do you stop a wage garnishment?

You can stop a wage garnishment by filing a claim of exemption. The wages of a head of household are exempt from garnishment in Florida. You can also stop a wage garnishment if the creditor has deviated from strict garnishment procedures.

What is the statute of limitations for wage garnishment?

A creditor can garnish your wages at any time during the life of the judgment, which is 20 years.

What happens to a wage garnishment if you leave your job?

If you leave your job, the creditor must apply for a new wage garnishment. A wage garnishment only works on the employer named in the garnishment proceeding.

Jon Alper

About the Author

I’m a nationally recognized attorney specializing in asset protection planning. I graduated with honors from the University of Florida Law School and have practiced law for almost 50 years.

I have been recognized as a legal expert by media outlets such as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. I have helped thousands of clients protect their assets from creditors.