How to Garnish Wages in Virginia

Four Parts:Preparing to File for GarnishmentCalculating the Amount You Can GarnishFiling to Garnish WagesObjecting to a Claimed Exemption

Wage garnishment is a legal method of debt collection. You can request a court order instructing the debtor's employer to withhold some of the debtor's earnings to pay for a court judgment, child support, or other debt. To garnish someone's wages, you must file the appropriate forms with the 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 skip ahead 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.
    • To get a judgment, you must sue the debtor in civil court or small claims court. Ask the court clerk for the necessary forms, file them, have a process server serve the defendant, and attend a hearing. You can also garnish the debtor's wages to pay child or spousal support if a child support or spousal support order was entered as part of your divorce decree.
    • If you want to garnish wages for unpaid child support, contact the Virginia Department of Social Services at 1-800-468-8894.[1] They can assist you with enforcing your support order. Otherwise, as long as you have a copy of your support order, you can file for a garnishment yourself. Also see How to Enforce a Child Support Order.
    • Typically, you cannot get a garnishment order for a judgment that is less than 21 days old.[2]
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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.
    • It can save you time and legal fees to try to collect informally. Unfortunately, the debtor may be counting on you not to follow through with collection. On the other hand, the debtor may be willing to pay you informally to avoid having a garnishment order delivered to his or her employer, which can be embarrassing.
    • 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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    Find out if the debtor has a job. Before going through the garnishment process, you should assure yourself that the debtor 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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    Consider hiring 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 debtor’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.
    • You can get referrals from friends and family, or from attorneys who may not practice civil law or collections but know a trusted colleague who does. You can also use referral services through the Virginia State Bar, or just search online.

Part 2
Calculating the Amount You Can Garnish

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    Let the debtor's employer do the final calculation. The debtor's employer knows how much the debtor is earning, so it is the employer's responsibility to calculate how much to withhold based on the formulas provided by the court. An employer who receives a garnishment order is called a garnishee. If the garnishee fails to withhold the debtor's earnings according to the order, the garnishee may be found to be in contempt of the court order.[3]
    • If you know how much the debtor makes, you can do the calculations yourself, or use the rules to estimate how much you can expect to receive under the garnishment order.
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    Calculate the debtor's earnings. Earnings include any compensation paid for the debtor's services. They include wages, salary, commissions, bonuses, and payments to any pension or retirement program. Earnings include payments directly to the debtor, to the debtor as an independent contractor, and payments to another entity on behalf of the debtor. [4]
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    Subtract deductions to find the debtor's disposable earnings. "Disposable earnings" are any earnings left over after the employer has made the deductions required by law.[5] Deductions made at the request of the debtor are not required by law, and should be included in the calculation of disposable earnings.[6]
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    Use the disposable earnings figure to estimate how much you will be able to garnish. Virginia's law permits you to garnish the lesser of either (1) 25% of the debtor's disposable earnings, or (2) the debtor's disposable earnings minus 40 times the federal minimum hourly wage.[7]
    • As of 2015, the federal minimum wage is $7.25/hr. $7.25 multiplied by 40 is $290. Thus, if the debtor makes less than $290 per week, you will not receive anything.
    • Remember that the debtor can challenge the garnishment in court and claim certain exemptions. For example, if the debtor makes no more than $1,750.00 per month and has a dependent child at home, he or she can claim $34 per week to support that child.[8]

Part 3
Filing to Garnish Wages

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    Complete a Garnishment Summons. This form, numbered CC-1486, is available online at You will be required to enter certain information, including the case number from under which your received your judgment, the judgment amount, and information about yourself and debtor. For a complete information sheet from the Virginia courts, visit
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    Complete a Suggestion For Summons in Garnishment. This form, numbered CC-1485, is available online at You will need to enter certain information, including the case number, information for the creditor and debtor, and details of when the judgment was entered. For a complete information sheet from the Virginia courts, visit
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    Attach a Request For Hearing- Garnishment/Lien Exemption Claim. This form, numbered DC-454, is available online at You do not need to complete it, but you must attach the form to each copy you bring to the court.[9] The form will be delivered to the debtor, and contains instructions on how to object to the garnishment order.
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    File your forms. Once you have completed the forms, make at least four copies and take them to the court clerk for filing. The clerk will stamp all of your copies and return them to you.
    • Filing fees vary by county. In Fairfax County, the fees amount to $49.50 for judgments under $500, and $59.50 for judgments over $500. These do not include service fees.[10] If you cannot afford the fee, ask the court clerk for information on how to file for a fee waiver.
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    Have the sheriff's office serve your forms. The court clerk should be able to instruct you on how to have the sheriff's office serve your forms on the debtor and his or her employer. Expect to pay an additional fee for this service. You may need to deliver the forms to the sheriff's office yourself. The sheriff will deliver copies of your forms on your behalf.
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    Wait for a response. The employer must either file a response with the court or begin withholding wages from the debtor. During this period, the debtor may also file a claim of exemption with the court, arguing that he or she should not be subject to a garnishment order due to their financial circumstances.
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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.[11][12] If the debtor files objections, claiming that he or she is exempt from the order, then you will need to object to any claimed exemptions by filing an objection and attending a hearing.

Part 4
Objecting to a Claimed Exemption

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    Receive the debtor’s answer. The debtor can attempt to halt the garnishment by claiming an exemption. This is done by filing Form DC-454, available at 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.
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    File an objection. If you dispute the debtor’s claim of exemption, you can file an objection. Contact the court clerk to find out if your county provides a form you can use to object to the claimed exemption. If not, you may need to file a written objection with the court, or just attend the hearing and oppose the claim of exemption in person.
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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 debtor’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 is not a head of household, 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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    Serve the order on the employer. You may need to arrange to have the court's order denying the claimed exemption served upon the debtor's employer. If you are unsure of how to proceed after the judge has ruled, ask the court clerk.
    • 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.[13] Speak with an attorney if necessary.


  • 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.
  • This article is intended as legal information and does not provide legal advice. If you need legal advice, contact a licensed attorney.

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Categories: Contracts and Legal Agreements