In Florida, once a money judgment is entered on behalf of a party, any wages of the judgment debtor may be garnished as long as necessary to satisfy the judgment. A money judgment is a court order that awards the plaintiff a sum of money for obligations such as loans, credit cards, unpaid rent, and hospital bills. But what's next? Does a valid wage garnishment mean that contact by the creditor will cease? Will it continue to pursue payment of the outstanding debt?
Unfortunately, once a wage garnishment begins, there is nothing to prevent a judgment creditor to continue pursuing payment of the debt. The creditor wants payment in full as soon as possible and a wage garnishment will typically not accomplish this purpose. Thus, some form of contact usually continues despite the garnishment being active and in effect.
Wage garnishment is a special type of garnishment writ provided by Fla. Stat. § 77.0305. A single writ of wage garnishment served on a judgment debtor’s employer garnishes wages and salary as they become payable. Thus, a wage garnishment provides creditors and their collectors a continuing mechanism for collecting the debt until payment in full. The only way to end the garnishment is to pay the judgment amount in full or challenge the garnishment by asserting an exemption under Florida law. There are no continuing garnishments against any debts other than wages.
Service of the writ makes an employer liable for all debts due by him or her to the debtor employee. It also makes the employer liable for any tangible or intangible personal property of the debtor-employee in the employer’s possession or control at the time of the service of the writ or at any time between the service and the time of the garnishee’s answer. Service of the writ creates a lien in or upon any such debts or property at the time of service or at the time such debts or property come into the employer’s possession or control.
If a creditor has initiated a lawsuit to recover for an unpaid debt and obtained a judgment, then it typically means that the obligee on the debt has had his or her day in court. However, any person or entity who has sued to recover a debt in any court against another person or entity has a right to a writ of garnishment. Technically, this would mean a plaintiff may obtain a writ pre-judgment, although courts will not issue pre-judgment writs of garnishment to plaintiffs in tort cases.
Pre-judgment writs are rare because the plaintiff must deposit a bond equal to at least double the amount of the debt demanded, plus all costs, damages, and attorney’s fees that the defendant may sustain in case the plaintiff’s improperly sued for the writ of garnishment.
The judgment debtor may not have actually defended the lawsuit. The judgment may have been obtained by default, meaning the future judgment debtor failed to answer the complaint, nonetheless, once a judgment has been entered, in most cases, any opportunity to dispute the debt has passed.
Prior to the lawsuit, the eventual judgment debtor may have been inundated with phone calls and correspondence demanding payment of the debt. Thus, even with the issuance of a valid wage garnishment, this contact may continue. However, Florida law provides certain exemptions for judgment debtors to avoid writs of wage garnishment. An exemption simply means that the garnishment may be avoided.
Fortunately, Florida law protects judgment debtors by mandating that a specific notice must be attached to the service of an application for a writ of garnishment. This notice clearly lists the exemptions and states that a judgment debtor has twenty (20) days from receipt of the notice to file an answer and assert an exemption. In this situation, it is important to consult with an attorney to ensure that any available exemption is correctly asserted.The experienced South Florida defense attorneys at Loan Lawyers are here to protect you and assert your rights against any debt collector or judgment debtor, including the potential garnishment of your wages. To schedule a free consultation at any of our three conveniently located offices, contact Loan Lawyers today by calling (888) FIGHT-13 (344-4813).