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Garnishment: Facts You Need to Know
What is Garnishment?
Garnishment is a legal process where a creditor attempts to take assets or wages from a debtor. The garnishment process can only be initiated through the court process. Typically, once a creditor obtains a judgment against a debtor, it may seek to collect on the judgment. However, Florida law allows garnishment prior to the entry of a judgment for specific contract lawsuits.
What do you do if a creditor attempts to garnish your wages or bank account?
In order to protect your wages or bank account from garnishment, you must file a Claim of Exemption and Request for Hearing within 20 days of receiving the notice of the Writ for Garnishment (request to the Court for garnishment). The creditor is required to include a copy of the Claim of Exemption form with its garnishment notice. The Claim of Exemption allows a debtor to select which exemptions may apply to their particular financial situation. Please note that filing the Claim of Exemption does not mean that the Court will automatically approve your request. Below are some examples of the most common exemptions under Florida law:
Head of Household: This exemption protects a person who provides more than half of the support of a dependent (including child or other person within their care). If the person earns less than $500 per week, then they are fully protected. If the person earns more than $500 per week, then they may only be garnished if they have previously agreed in writing.
Certain Public Benefits: This exemption protects a debtor's Social Security disability or retirement benefits, VA Benefits, Worker's Compensation, and Unemployment Compensation.
Pension Benefits: This exemption includes teacher, state, municipal, firefighter, and private pension benefits.
Homestead Property: Real property registered with a homestead exemption with the local property appraiser's office is protected from garnishment.
Life Insurance/Annuity Contracts: Insurance benefits that a beneficiary receives directly after the death of a loved one are protected from garnishment. Additionally, the cash surrender value of life insurance policies and annuity contracts are protected from garnishment.
What happens after I file my Claim of Exemption?
The Court will schedule a hearing as quick as possible to decide whether a debtor is entitled to the requested exemption. At the hearing, the debtor must be prepared to testify to the information contained in the Claim of Exemption. Additionally, a debtor will need to provide the Court and creditor with copies of recent bank statements and pay stubs. At the hearing, the creditor may try to dispute the validity of the exemption claim. Ultimately, the Judge will weigh the evidence presented by both sides and rule in favor or against the Claim of Exemption.
If you have questions regarding the garnishment process, you may contact the Palm Beach County Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service at 561-687-3266.
IMPORTANT: The information on this Website is not intended as legal advice or representation. No attorney-client relationship is created between the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County, Inc. and any person obtaining information from this website. Public benefits and other laws change frequently. We strive to keep this website up to date but cannot provide a guarantee that this information is accurate as of the time you are reading it.