Wage Garnishment in California

Every state in the nation has the right to garnish your wages. Unfortunately, it happens more often than you might think. Thankfully, several wage garnishment laws are in place to protect you. These carry strict definitions for when and how wages can be garnished and how much can be withheld. If you have garnished wages, read through this article or check with a local Orange County divorce attorney to ensure creditors act lawfully.

How Does Wage Garnishment Work?

A wage garnishment, also known as a wage attachment, is an order given by either a court or government body. This order is sent to your employer, who must abide. The employer will take a certain amount from your paycheck each week and send it to the creditor. Garnishments are handled differently depending on the type of debt, your income, and whether or not you have dependents. In general, a creditor can garnish wages after obtaining a court order.

If you owe money for a credit card or medical bill, the creditor will can only garnish your wages if he or she sues you and gets a judgment from the court. There are several forms of debt that don’t need a court order, however:

  • Unpaid taxes
  • Spousal support
  • Child support orders
  • Unpaid child support (arrears)
  • Unpaid or defaulted student loans

If your debt doesn’t fall into one of these categories, the creditor can only garnish your wages by successfully suing you.

General Limits on Wage Garnishment

Thankfully, the law prevents creditors from garnishing too much. Garnishments are restricted, so you—in theory—will still have enough left over to pay for living expenses. Federal law allows states to create stricter limits if they wish, but California employs standard federal parameters:

On a weekly basis, creditors may take the lesser of:

  • 25% of your income (net wages)
  • The difference between 40 times the state minimum wage and your weekly earnings

Garnishment Limits for Specific Debt Types

That’s not the end of it; there are even more limitations pertaining to the type of debt you owe:

  • Child support. Federal laws allow up to 50% of your income to be garnished if you support a spouse or child who isn’t part of the order. If the spouse or child is part of the order, up to 60% of your income can be garnished. If you have more than 12 weeks of payments in arrears, an additional 5% can be added to the garnishment.
  • Student loans. The US Department of Education and its collection agencies can garnish up to 15% of your income as long as it doesn’t exceed 30 times the minimum wage.
  • Unpaid income tax. The federal and state government can garnish your wages for unpaid taxes. California can garnish up to 25% of your income for state taxes. The federal government will garnish your wages based on your income and number of dependents.
  • Multiple garnishments. In some cases, you may have more than one garnishment. When this occurs, the total amount of the garnishment cannot exceed 25% of your disposable income.

Speak With a Family Law Attorney in San Diego, CA

There are few situations in which a garnishment will be released. Obviously, repaying the debt is the most common one. Once the debt is paid, including interest, the garnishment will be discharged. Sometimes, garnishments occur in error—which is rare. There are some cases where filing bankruptcy will release a wage garnishment. Speak with an experienced family law attorney at Boyd Law. We have years of experience with wage garnishments and family law. Contact us today for more info, and learn how we can help.