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 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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Dealing with debt
If you are struggling with debt, you are not alone. According to the NY Federal Reserve total household debt as of Quarter Q2 2023 was $17.06 trillion. Student loan debt was $1.569 trillion and credit card debt was $1.031 trillion.
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