How to Garnish Someone's Wages

Three Parts:Preparing to File for GarnishmentFiling to Garnish WagesObjecting to a Claimed Exemption

Wage garnishment is a legal method of debt collection available in certain circumstances. For instance, an employer may withhold the earnings of an employee under a court order due to an employee’s failure to pay child support or failure to pay a court judgment. Successfully garnishing wages requires filing appropriate forms with a court and potentially attending a hearing.

Part 1
Preparing to File for Garnishment

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    Get a judgment. You need to sue and be awarded a judgment before you can garnish someone’s wages. If a debtor is behind on repaying a loan, you cannot immediately jump to wage garnishment. Instead, you need to sue for the amount owed. Once you get a judgment from a court, then you can use wage garnishment to help you collect on the debt.
    • If you want to garnish wages for back child support, you should reach out to your state’s Attorney General’s office. Each state has an agency which has been created to help parents collect child support. See How to Enforce a Child Support Order.
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    Try to collect informally. It may be worth your time to contact the debtor and try to collect the debt informally. You can write the debtor a letter and include a phone number as well as a good time for the debtor to contact you.
    • Some states don’t allow garnishment for debts other than child support and back taxes. Texas, for example, allows garnishment only for taxes, child support, alimony, and student loans.[1] If you live in a state that does not allow garnishment, then you may have no choice but to first try and collect the money informally.
    • For more information on how to collect on a court judgment, see How to Collect a Judgment. Pay particular attention to what you are not allowed to do, e.g., contact the debtor at certain times in the day.
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    Understand the amount you can garnish. Federal and state laws limit the amount that can be garnished from a person’s paycheck based on disposable earnings during a week or pay period. For example, federal law limits garnishment to the lesser of two amounts: 25% of the employee’s disposable earnings, or the amount by which an employee’s disposable earnings are greater than 30 times the federal minimum wage (currently $7.25 an hour). These limits apply for garnishments other than child support.[2]
    • In practice, the federal law applies in this manner. The first $217.50 you make in a pay period cannot be garnished (30 times the minimum wage of $7.25). That is completely exempted from garnishment.
    • If, however, you make between $217.50 and $290.00, then any amount over 217.50 can be garnished. Accordingly, if you make $228.50 in a pay period, then $11.00 can be garnished.
    • Once you make $290.00 or more, then at least 25% can be garnished. [3] Therefore, if you make If you make $290.00, then $72.50 can be garnished. If you make $400.00 in a pay period, then $100.00 can be garnished.
    • State laws may provide greater protection to debtors. To check your state laws, visit this website and click on your state.
    • Different limits apply if you are seeking garnishment for back child support. Up to 50% of a debtor’s wages can be garnished if he or she is also providing for another spouse or child. Up to 60% can be garnished if the debtor is not providing for anyone else. An additional 5% can be taken if the debtor is more than 12 weeks in arrears.[4]
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    Find out if the defendant has a job. Before going through the garnishment process, you should assure yourself that the defendant has a job. You can look on websites such as LinkedIn or Facebook to see if the debtor lists a particular occupation or employer.
    • You may also want to conduct a simple internet search of the debtor’s name. The results may yield employer-related websites containing the debtor’s name.
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    Meet with a lawyer. The process for successfully garnishing someone’s wages can be complex. You not only have to file a motion in court but you might have to defend against a defendant’s claim that wages are exempt. There may be other collection methods that might be more effective, especially if the debtor does not make much money but does own property.
    • To find an experienced lawyer, you should visit your state’s bar association, which should run a referral program. You can find your state’s bar association by clicking here and entering your state or zip code.

Part 2
Filing to Garnish Wages

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    Gather the necessary forms. The precise process for garnishing someone’s wages will differ depending on your state. Typically, however, you will need to complete various forms and file them with the court. You should stop by the court in the county where the defendant lives and ask if they have forms. Most courts today have “fill in the blank” forms for you to fill out.
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    Complete the forms. Use a typewriter or a pen with black ink to fill out the form.[5] The information each form requests will vary, but you should have the following information at hand, as it should be useful for whatever state’s form you fill out:[6]
    • the employer’s name and address
    • the debtor’s name and address
    • the total amount owed
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    Sign the forms. Check to see if you need to have the forms notarized. If you do, wait to sign the form until you appear in front of a notary public. Notaries are usually found at the courthouse, but they may also be found at large banks.
    • Be sure to bring sufficient personal identification. A valid driver’s license or passport should suffice.
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    File the forms. Once you have completed the forms, you should make several copies and take them to the court clerk for filing. The clerk will stamp all of your copies and return them to you.[7]
    • You may be required to pay a filing fee. If you cannot afford the fee, then ask about a fee waiver.
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    Hire a registered process server. You must give the process server two sets of your forms and pay a fee to cover the cost of the garnishment. Who the process server delivers the papers to will depend on state law. In California, the process server then opens a file with the sheriff’s office, which will act as the “levying agency.”[8] In other states, the process server will serve your papers on the employer directly, without the assistance of a levying agent.[9]
    • You can find a process server in your Yellow Pages or online. Also, you can contact your bar association for a referral.[10]
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    Receive the employer’s answer. In some states, the employer will have to answer whether the debtor is employed there. At that point, you may need to complete other paperwork for the judge to sign. In Arizona, for example, you would need to submit an “Application for an Order of Continuing Lien” and an “Order of Continuing Lien” for the judge to sign.[11]
    • This signed order is then sent to the employer, so that the money can be released to you.[12]
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    Serve forms on the debtor. You may have to serve certain forms on the judgment debtor. Check with your court clerk. In Arizona, for example, you would need to serve on the judgment debtor the following forms within three days of serving the employer:[13]
    • Signed Writ of Garnishment and Summons
    • Initial Notice to Judgment Debtor of Garnishment
    • Request for Hearing on Garnishment
    • Notice of Hearing on Garnishment
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    Receive payment. If there are no objections by the debtor or the employer, then the garnished wages will be sent either to the levying agency, who will collect the money and then disburse it to you, or it will be sent directly to you.[14][15] If there are objections—such as the person is a head of household—then you will need to object to a claimed exemption.
    • In some states, the court itself may collect money and then send it to you. Check with the court clerk for the method of collection used.
    • Depending on your state, you may have to report your payments. In Arizona, for example, you need to fill out a “Creditor’s Garnishment Report (Earnings)” and report this information to the debtor and the employer.[16]
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    Release the garnishment. Once you are paid in full, you must write the levying agency and ask them to release the garnishment.
    • Your letter should list:[17]
      • the court case number
      • the file number
      • name of the judgment debtor
      • name of the debtor’s employer
      • the date when the garnishment should end
    • Finally, fill out an “Acknowledgment of a Satisfaction of Judgment” form, which is available from the court clerk. File it with the court and retain a copy for your records.
    • You should also send a copy of the Satisfaction of Judgment to the debtor and the employer as well.[18]

Part 3
Objecting to a Claimed Exemption

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    Receive the debtor’s answer. The defendant can attempt to halt the garnishment by claiming an exemption. Exemptions are provided by law and allow debtors to get out from having their wages garnished. The most common exemption is that the debtor needs the funds to support his or her own family. This is called a “head of household” exemption.
    • Head of household exemption: if the debtor is responsible for more than one-half of the support for a child or other dependent, then he or she can prevent the garnishment.[19] Alternately, some states may not totally exempt the debtor’s wages from garnishment but instead reduce the amount you can garnish.
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    File an objection. If you dispute the debtor’s claim of exemption, you can file an objection. The court should have a form for this purpose.
    • You should file any objection as soon as you receive the debtor’s answer. Courts have strict time limits. In Arizona, you must file an objection within 10 business days.[20]
    • Schedule a hearing. The court may schedule a hearing or you will request one. You must appear with the debtor before a judge and argue about whether the claimed exemption applies.
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    Arrive early. You should give yourself plenty of time to get to the courthouse, pass through any security, and arrive at the courtroom with 15 minutes or so to spare.
    • Be sure to leave all food and drinks outside the courthouse. If you need a morning coffee, consume it all before entering the building.
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    Argue your position to the judge. You should explain to the court why you think the exemption should not apply. This could be difficult if you do not know much about the defendant’s life, e.g., whether or not the debtor has other children to take care of.
    • One reason to try and settle the debt informally with the debtor is so that you can discover if he or she is the head of household. If you find out that the debtor isn’t, then you can disclose your conversations to the judge at the hearing should the debtor claim a head of household exemption.
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    Draft the order. If you prevail at the hearing, you may need to write an order. The court should have blank order forms that you can fill out. Give the order to the debtor to look over and then give it to the clerk for the judge to sign.
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    Serve the order on the employer. The final step will be to serve the order on the debtor’s employer.[21] You should use an official service of process method, such as the sheriff or a process server.
    • If the employer refuses to comply with the garnishment order, then you can bring an action in court to hold the employer liable for the payments.[22] Speak with an attorney if this becomes necessary.


  • If you are owed back child support payments, then you should work with your state agency. For a small fee (usually $25), the agency will pursue the other parent for owed child support. The agency has more expertise and time to devote to this, and also has experience in getting judgments enforced against out-of-state parents.


  • Federal law limits your ability to contact a debtor when seeking to collect. For example, you cannot contact the debtor early in the morning or late at night. Furthermore, you cannot make misleading statements, contact the debtor’s employer without court approval, or ask a third person more than basic information about the debtor’s location.
  • If you violate federal law, then you could be sued. If you lose, you will be responsible for damages and attorney’s fees.

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Categories: Contracts and Legal Agreements