The Nuts and Bolts of Wage Garnishment

 

You’ve gone through the trouble of obtaining a judgment and now you want to collect on it.    One of the best ways to do that is to garnish your debtor’s wages.    How exactly does that work?   First thing you need to do is figure out who their employer is and if the debtor is W-2 employer.  If the person is a 1099 independent contractor wage garnishment will not be effective you will need an assignment order which requires a completely separate procedure (subject of an upcoming post) If you know that already then find where that company’s agent for service of process in California is located.   When you’ve figured out what county that person is located in you need to obtain a writ of execution from the court for that county. 

 

Once a writ of execution is issued it is valid for 6 months.   You take the writ of execution and you submit an application for earning withholding order.  Each county is different as to exactly what you have to prepare and submit with the package.     You send the completed package with the writ of execution to the sheriff’s department.   Some counties in California (notably most Bay Area counties) will not directly serve the earnings withholding order.  You have to basically open the wage garnishment by paying the Sheriff to open the file then hire a private process server to actually serve the whole earnings withholding on the debtors employer.    A similar process can be used to serve garnishments in counties that are extremely backed up with serving process particularly Sacramento and Los Angeles county which seem to house the most The employer has an obligation to return their response called the employers return.    The employer has to state whether the person is employed there or not, how frequently they are paid, and the amount of pay there last pay period.  Finally, the employer has to state whether any other orders affecting the employee’s wages are present and if they have higher priority (family support notably jumps ahead of civil orders)   There is a threshold for garnishing wages.  Employees have to make a minimum to have the wages garnished.  There is also a maximum percentage of wages that can be garnished 25% of disposable income.   If there are multiple orders the first in time is paid in full first before others are paid (similar to first in time for a lien on a piece of real property).  

 

Assuming, you have the highest priority and the debtors doesn’t claim the funds exempt (subject to another future blog post) then the employer will send the funds the sheriff.  The sheriff will then hold the funds for some period of time, usually several weeks then cut you a check for the amount garnish less their fees ($12.00 per check-  this amount is charged to the debtor).