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.
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.
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.
If the debtor can prove they qualify as a head of household and their net income is less than $750 per week, the wage garnishment will not be permitted. If the debtor’s net income exceeds $750, the creditor may be permitted to attach the garnishment to the amount that exceeds $750 per week. The debtor seeking head of household protection will have the burden of proving they qualify for the exemption.
It is important to note, the head of household exemption does not protect tax refunds from garnishment. Tax refunds are not considered wages, thus are not protected under the head of household statute.
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 our 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 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, by 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. If the claim of exemption and request for 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 hearing will not be necessary.
If you are threatened with a wage garnishment or your wages are already being garnished, contact the Tancredo Law Firm for help.
The Tancredo Law Firm has assisted thousands of individuals with Wage Garnishment over the past 20 years.
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