Legal Dictionary


Legal Definition of garnishment


  1. The seizing of a person's property, credit or salary, on the basis of a law which allows it, and for the purposes of paying off a debt. The person who possesses the assets of the debtor and is the subject of the seizure is called a "garnishee". This is frequently used in the enforcement of child support where delinquent debtors will be subjected to salary garnishment. A percentages of their wages is subtracted directly off their pay-check and directed to the person in need of support (the employer being the garnishee).

See also

Related terms

Definition of garnishment


garnishment (plural garnishments)

  1. (law) A judgment that a third party should pay money owing to a defendant directly to a plaintiff.

Further reading

A garnishment is a means of collecting a monetary judgment against a defendant by ordering a third party (the garnishee) to pay money, otherwise owed to the defendant, directly to the plaintiff. In the case of collecting for taxes, the law of a jurisdiction may allow for collection without a judgment or other court order.

Wage garnishment (United States)

Wage garnishment, the most common type of garnishment, is the process of deducting money from an employee's monetary compensation (including salary), sometimes as a result of a court order. In the United States, some such garnishments are limited by federal law to 25 percent of the disposable income that the employee earns. Wage garnishments continue until the entire debt is paid or arrangements are made to pay off the debt. Garnishments can be taken for any type of debt but common examples of debt that result in garnishments include:

  • child support
  • defaulted student loans
  • taxes
  • unpaid court fines
  • any other type of monetary judgment

When served on an employer, garnishments are taken as part of the payroll process. When processing payroll, sometimes there is not enough money in the employee's net pay to satisfy all of the garnishments. In such a case, the correct order to take a garnishment must be satisfied. For example, in a case with federal tax, local tax, and credit card garnishments, the first garnishment taken would be the federal tax garnishments, then the local tax garnishments, and finally, garnishments for the credit card. Employers receive a notice telling them to withhold a certain amount of their employee's wages for payment and cannot refuse to garnish wages.

Wage garnishment can negatively affect credit, reputation, and the ability to receive a loan or open a bank account.

At present four U.S. states � North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Texas � do not allow wage garnishment at all except for debts related to taxes, child support, federally guaranteed student loans, and court-ordered fines or restitution for a crime the debtor committed. Several other states observe maximum thresholds that are lower than the 25 percent maximum provided by federal law. States may also prohibit garnishment altogether in certain circumstances. For example, in Florida the wages of a person who provides more than half the support for a child or other dependent are exempt from garnishment altogether (though this exemption is subject to waiver). Loans and negotiations with creditors can also help debtors to avoid wage garnishment.

In many states when the person is an employee or appointee of a governmental unit the writ is called a Writ of Sequestration. These are processed by the courts in the same manner as garnishments and are subject to the same wage exemptions.

The debtor has a remedy if he/she believes the Garnishment is improper under the law. That remedy is a Motion To Quash the writ.

Debtors can have multiple writs of garnishment against their wages but most states follow the first to serve rule. The first to serve rule is that the employer must honor the garnishments one at a time in the order that they were served on the employer.

A typical garnishment statutory scheme can be seen in Missouri Supreme Court Rule 90[1].


  1. Wiktionary. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.


1.     warrant
2.     tampering
3.     emtio
4.     amnesty law
5.     magistrates court
6.     lex fori
7.     landed property
8.     lex situs
9.     lex causae
10.     ownership