Legalese — Garnishment

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Most of us have heard the phrase “garnish your wages” and have some vague idea about what that means. You probably know it has something to do with someone taking your paycheck from you, but how much can they take? And when can they take it?

In Georgia, you first need a ‘money judgment’ that you got from a court. It isn’t enough to just say someone owes you money (or that you owe them money), a court has to agree that this is true and order it to be paid.

Once someone has a judgment from a court, then they are entitled to garnish (effectively, “take”) someone’s assets, including a portion of their paychecks. The person taking the money is called the Garnishor or the Plaintiff; the person who owes the money is the Defendant; and the person or entity who holds the money that the Garnishor is going to take (the bank, the employer) is called the Garnishee. More or less anything is subject to garnishment. O.C.G.A. 18-4-4 says, “All money or other property of the defendant in the possession or control of the garnishee at the time of service of the summons of garnishment upon the garnishee or coming into the possession or control of the garnishee throughout the garnishment period shall be subject to the process of garnishment. In plain English, that means that even if the Garnishee doesn’t have the money or the assets at the time you file the garnishment, if the Garnishee gets the assets during the time period that the garnishment is going on, they can still be taken.

That isn’t to say, however, that you can just take someone’s entire paycheck. Rather, you can only take 25% “of the defendant’s disposable earnings for hat week, or…the amount by which the defendant’s disposable earnings for that week exceed $217.00…” whichever is less. In other words, if someone makes $1,000.00 a week, $250.00 could be garnished. If they earned $300.00 a week, only $83.00 could be garnished.

Money you hold in an IRA, pension, or retirement account can’t be garnished until or unless it is paid out to you.

Garnishment is not necessarily a one time thing. It can be done periodically until the judgment is fully paid (including any interest that may have accrued) or until the garnishment stops for any reason, like a court order or a bankruptcy is filed.

The procedure for getting a garnishment is fairly complicated. Of course, first you have to get the judgment. Then you have to figure out where the Defendant’s assets are, and who their employers are, which might not be as easy as you think. Once you have all that figured out, you have to file an affidavit of garnishment, summons of garnishment, Notice to Defendant of Right Against Garnishment of Money, Including Wages, and Other Property, and Defendant’s Claim Form. All of this has to be served on the right people. It is something technical that most people would not be able to pull off on their own without legal assistance.

All of this may sound harsh, but it is for a good cause. If you owe people money, you ought to pay it – and if a court says you owe it, you can’t argue about whether or not you owe it. And if you have money, you need to satisfy your obligations to others prior to satisfying your obligations to yourself. You can’t hide from a judgment by simply not paying it. On the other hand, the process has to be difficult to make sure that it isn’t used willy-nilly. It should be hard to take a part of someone’s paycheck or their bank accounts.

To avoid the whole thing, take Ben Franklin’s advice “Neither a borrower nor a lender be.”

Nothing in this article should be construed as legal advice.  It is being offered for informational purposes only.

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