What is it garnishment, anyway?

Garnishment is a way that judgment creditors can legally recover money awarded to them by a court. The most common type of garnishment is wage garnishment. Wage garnishment occurs only after a creditor obtains a court judgment. After a judgment has been entered, a court order called a periodic writ of garnishment allows the creditor to take a portion of the debtor’s paycheck. The debtor’s employer is legally obligated to withhold that portion and send it to the creditor. Little by little, the judgment debt is paid through wage garnishment.

How can garnishment be challenged?

There are not many challenges to garnishments. The State of Michigan provides an objection-to-garnishment form. That form and Michigan law limit the grounds on which garnishments can be challenged, but there are a few ways to make a challenge:

  • Challenge Promptly. Michigan law benefits those who challenge a writ of garnishment right away. Garnishment cannot begin until after you fail to respond within 28 days of receiving notice of garnishment. There may still be ways to challenge the garnishment after that, but as a practical matter those challenges become much more difficult. It’s critical to act quickly and meet the 28-day deadline to object to the garnishment.
  • Challenge the Amount. Federal Law sets limits on how much may be garnished each pay period. If a judgment creditor is garnishing your wages, federal law provides that the creditor can take no more than 25% of your disposable income, or the amount that your income exceeds 30 times the federal minimum wage, whichever is less. To apply these limits to your own circumstances, try the Department of Labor fact sheet to help you calculate the amount that a judgment creditor may legally garnish from your paycheck.
  • Challenge on Exemptions. Michigan law exempts certain forms of payments from being garnished. These include things like social security payments and student loan payments. MichiganLegalHelp.org provides a more complete list. A garnishment should not be attached to any of those exempted categories, and a judgment debtor has the right to challenge any attempt to do so.
  • File Bankruptcy. One way to avoid garnishment is to file a bankruptcy. In fact, the whole purpose of bankruptcy is to provide a legal option to those who can’t pay their debts. Considering bankruptcy is a complicated and personal decision. You should talk to a lawyer to decide if filing bankruptcy is the right option for you. Most bankruptcy lawyers offer free initial consultations.

When should I act after getting a garnishment notice?

Don’t ignore the garnishment notice. Often people in debt have feelings of guilt. But this is civil, not criminal court. Educate yourself and act promptly if you receive a notice of garnishment.