Exemptions From Garnishment: Florida “Head of Family” Wages and Federal Limitations on Garnishment
When a person or business obtains a money judgment from a Florida court, they become known as a “judgment creditor.” Florida law entitles judgment creditors to employ a variety of procedures to collect on the money judgment. One of those tools is known as “garnishment.” In a garnishment proceeding, a judgment creditor tries to satisfy an unpaid judgment by pursuing recovery of wages, funds, debts, and other property belonging to or owed to the judgment debtor, which are in the hands of employers, banks, and other third-parties.
Florida law also provides several exemptions from garnishment for certain categories of persons and assets. One of the most commonly invoked exemptions is known as the “head of family” exemption, governed by Section 222.11, Florida Statutes. This statute applies to a “head of family,” which is defined as “any natural person who is providing more than one-half of the support for a child or other dependent.” § 222.11(1)(c), Fla. Stat. Under the statute, the disposable earnings of a “head of family” that are less than or equal to $750 per week are exempt from garnishment, while disposable earnings that are greater than $750 per week are also exempt unless the “head of family” has very clearly waived that protection in a signed writing. § 222.11(2)(a) and (b), Fla. Stat.
Additionally, exempt disposable earnings of a “head of family” that are deposited in a financial institution, such as a bank or credit union, retain their exempt status for a maximum of six (6) months after the earnings are received by the financial institution “if the funds can be traced and properly identified as earnings.” § 222.11(3), Fla. Stat. Notably, the “[c]ommingling of earnings with other funds does not by itself defeat the ability of a head of family to trace earnings,” provided that the funds held in an account are clearly traceable and properly identifiable as exempt disposable earnings. § 222.11(3), Fla. Stat.
In addition to the protections from garnishment afforded by Florida law, the Federal Consumer Credit Reporting Act also provides limitations on garnishment against all individuals (not just “heads of family”). Under this Federal law, the maximum part of an individual’s aggregate weekly disposable earnings that is subject to garnishment is limited to the lesser of (i) 25% of disposable weekly earnings, or (ii) the amount by which disposable weekly earnings exceed thirty (30) times the Federal minimum hourly wage. 15 U.S.C. § 1673(a). However, these limitations do not apply to court-ordered support payments, Chapter 11 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy orders, and State and Federal tax debts.
The failure to timely and properly invoke applicable exemptions may result in a waiver of those protections. As such, a judgment debtor who receives a notice of a garnishment from a judgment creditor should immediately consult with an attorney to evaluate all potential exemptions and to ensure that such exemptions are timely and properly invoked before the Court.
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