Washington Garnishment

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If my ex-spouse refuses to pay a debt ordered by the court, may I garnish his wages?

I left my ex a year and a half ago and the divorce was final this last February. Almost all of the debt was in my name. I assumed $9K and he was to a...

I left my ex a year and a half ago and the divorce was final this last February. Almost all of the debt was in my name. I assumed $9K and he was to assume &7K by making me payments. He is not making payments and we do not have kids. Is it possible to garnish his wages?

The most common method used by judgment-creditors to enforce judgments is wage garnishment, in which a judgment creditor contacts the judgment-debtor's employer and requires the employer to deduct a certain portion of wages each pay period and send the money to the creditor.

However, several states, including Texas, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and South Carolina, do not allow wage garnishment for the enforcement of most judgments. In several other states, such as New Hampshire, wage garnishment is not the "preferred" method of judgment enforcement because, while possible, it is a tedious and time consuming process for creditors. In most states, creditors are allowed to garnish wages between 10% and 25% of your income, with the percentage allowed being determined by each state.

For example, if you live in California, which allows for 25% wage garnishment, and you take home $2,000 per month, a judgment creditor could garnish you at the rate of $500 per month until the debt is paid off. Keep in mind that, generally, only one garnishment is allowed at a time, so if you have several judgments against you, the one who contacted your employer first would be paid first from the garnishment, then the second, and so on. Another important point to remember is that Social Security benefits, pension payments, and many other types of income for the elderly and disabled, are exempt from garnishment, which means that most elderly Americans do not need to fear wage garnishment if they are unable to pay their bills.

The US Dept. of Labor offers several resources explaining wage garnishment rules in general, and Title III, Consumer Credit Protection Act (CCPA), specifically.

Washington Wage Garnishment

Washington's wage garnishment rules can be found in Chapter 6.27 RCW: Garnishment. Under Washington law, the greater of the following two amounts may be garnished per week: a) Thirty times the federal minimum hourly wage; or b) Seventy-five percent of the disposable earnings of the defendant. Wage garnishment rules are different for spousal or child support in Washington, and also take into consideration if a defendant is supporting a child (RCW 6.27.150).

If you reside in another state, see the Bills.com Wage Garnishment article to learn more.


A judgment is required before a wage garnishment can occur. Consult with an attorney in Washington to determine whether the divorce decree gives you the ability to garnish your ex-spouse's wages, or if a separate hearing is required.

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  • BM
    Spokane Valley, WA,
    Oct, 2011
    I owe money to my school and I was informed that they will be sending it to collections soon. I am currently unemployed and I am in a civil union in Washington state. Can they garnish my wife's wages?
    • BA
      Oct, 2011
      I have no training or experience in Washington's family law, and as a consequence I am not competent to offer an observation about Washington's domestic partnership law. The presumption is that debt incurred during a partnership is considered part of the community property, and that debt incurred before the partnership is separate. However, community property law varies by state, and in some states pre-union debt becomes community debt. In other states, it stays separate.

      Consult with a Washington lawyer who has family law experience. He or she will be able to tell you how student loan debt liability is handled under Washington law.
  • BA
    Jun, 2010
    If real property is security for loan, it is considered a mortgage. A mortgage taken later in time to another is a second (or third, or fourth) mortgage.
  • D
    Jun, 2010
    Is a home equity loan considered a second mortgage?