What is a Wage Garnishment?
Garnishment occurs when a creditor takes legal action to seize a portion of your wages, bank account, or other assets. In wage garnishment cases, the creditor will contact your employer and have your employer deduct a specified amount of money from your check each week to be forwarded to the creditor. Wage garnishments can be particularly devastating to debtors (borrowers) because the writ of garnishment is continuing. Therefore, a single writ of garnishment can continue to garnish wages until the full amount of the debt is paid. Fortunately, debtors in Florida do have many legal options to prevent or stop a wage garnishment. If you are threatened with a wage garnishment or your wages are already being garnished, contact a Florida wage garnishment attorney in the Tampa Bay area for help.
How Can a Creditor Garnish My Wages?
Most creditors will not be permitted to seek a wage garnishment until they have first obtained a judgment (court order) allowing them to collect the debt. However, unpaid income taxes, court ordered child support, and student loans are the exception to this rule, they will not be required to obtain a judgment prior to seeking garnishment. Creditors will have up to 20 years to collect the funds owed under a judgment. See Florida Statute 55.081. The statute of limitations to collect on a judgment is substantially longer than most other debts. The statute of limitations on most other debts is typically only 5 years. See Florida Statute 95.11.
How Can I Stop a Florida Wage Garnishment?
If you have been notified that your wages will be garnished, you will need to act quickly. The time from the judgment until the garnishment begins can be as little as a few days. Contact a Florida Wage Garnishment Attorney as soon as possible to discuss your options and the possible exemptions you may qualify for.
Head of Household Exemption in Florida:
Under Florida Statute 222.11, if you qualify as a head of household you may be legally entitled to stop a wage garnishment. The head of a household is someone who pays at least 50% of the living expenses for a dependent. The term “dependent” in head of household cases is broad and can include many different types of situations, children are not the only type of dependent that will qualify under the law. For instance, dependent may include an aunt, uncle, parent, or even a former spouse receiving alimony. See Killian v. Lawson.
It is important to note, the head of household exemption does not protect tax refunds from garnishment. Tax refunds are not considered wages, thus they are not protected under the head of household statute.
What Are Other Exemptions That Can Stop Garnishments?
Head of household is not the only exemption that can be used to stop a garnishment. For instance, exemptions to garnishments may also include social security benefits, welfare, workers’ compensation, veterans’ benefits, pensions, life insurance benefits, and disability income benefits.
Alternatively, the debtor may be able to file a lawsuit to vacate the judgment. If the judgment is vacated, the previous court order granting the judgment to the creditor will be null and void. Whether or not vacating a judgment will be a successful option depends on the facts and circumstances of each case. If you think you may have legal grounds to vacate a judgment contact a wage garnishment lawyer for assistance.
Federal Protection From Garnishment:
Under Federal law 15 U.S.C. 1673, garnishments may not exceed 25% of a debtor’s disposable income. This protection applies to all debtors, not just those you qualify as head of household. This limit applies to the total amount of garnishments; thus, even if a debtor is facing multiple garnishments, the total garnishment may not exceed 25%. However, the garnishment may exceed 25% of the debtor’s disposable income if the disposable income exceeds 30 times the federal minimum wages per week. In these cases, the garnishment will be limited to the lesser of either 25% of the debtor’s disposable income or 30 times the federal minimum wages per week.
Procedure to Stop Wage Garnishments in Florida:
When a creditor seeks a garnishment, the clerk of the court must send notice to the debtor regarding the garnishment. The notice must inform the debtor of the garnishment and the right to file an exemption. The debtor must file any exemptions to the garnishment within 20 days of receiving the notice. See Florida Statute 77.041. Additionally, the creditor must send the debtor notice of the garnishment. The notice must be sent first class mail within 5 business days of the writ of garnishment being issued.
If the debtor timely files a claim of exemption and request for a hearing, the creditor will 14 business days from the date they are served a copy of the exemption by mail to file a sworn written statement that answers the debtor’s claim of exemption. The claim of exemption and request for a hearing is hand-delivered the creditor will only have 8 business to respond. If the creditor fails to timely respond to the debtor’s claim of exemption the court will automatically cancel the garnishment. A court hearing will not be necessary to dismiss the garnishment.
Incorrect Garnishment Judgement:
If the debtor believes that the garnishment judgment was made in error, the judgment can then be contested. It is important to hire a Florida Wage Garnishment Attorney for the best way forward, if you have already completed payments for the debt, if it was included and then discharged in a bankruptcy or if it never belonged to you in the first place.
Using Bankruptcy to Stop Garnishment:
Immediately after a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy case is filed an automatic stay will be enacted. The automatic stay requires all collections efforts to immediately stop, including garnishments. The automatic stay is often the quickest way to stop a wage garnishment. Unlike filing for the head of household exemption, you do not have to wait weeks or months for a court hearing to stop the garnishment. Instead, the garnishment must be stopped as soon as the bankruptcy case is filed.
Additionally, you may be able to discharge the judgment in your bankruptcy case. The discharge is a court order releasing you from all personal liability on the debt. This is important because the head of household process does not eliminate the debt, it only temporarily stops the garnishment.
Contact a Florida Wage Garnishment Attorney Today
If you are threatened with a wage garnishment or your wages are already being garnished contact Florida Law Advisers to schedule a consultation with a Florida wage garnishment attorney. Our initial consultation is free and we offer flexible payment options. At Florida Law Advisers, we take an aggressive approach to stopping wage garnishments. We understand how devastating wage garnishments can be to a family, and we vigorously fight to defend our client’s rights. Call us today to speak with a wage garnishment lawyer, we are available to answer your calls 24/7.