In the United States civil justice system, a writ of garnishment is a court order that directs a third party to set aside funds they owe to, or hold for, the benefit of a debtor, so that the funds may be disbursed to a judgment creditor. Although the term 'garnishment' is often used interchangeably with other post-judgment collection remedies — such as attachment or a real estate lien — garnishment is most often used for attaching a debtor’s wages to satisfy an outstanding civil judgment. In some jurisdictions, a writ of garnishment is called trustee process, because the employer, as a third party, is directed by the court to segregate certain funds that are due to the employee for the benefit of the judgment creditor.
In order to obtain an order for garnishment, a plaintiff must first obtain a judgment from the court with which he filed his civil lawsuit. Once the court enters a judgment for the plaintiff on its docket, the plaintiff becomes a judgment creditor, and the defendant becomes a judgment debtor. A victorious plaintiff, or judgment creditor, can attempt to collect his awarded by applying to the court for post-judgment collection remedies, which can include, attaching the judgment debtor’s assets, putting a lien on his real property, and garnishing the his wages.
In most states, a judgment creditor must obtain an execution on the judgment before he can begin post-judgment collection procedures. An execution is a document that bears the official seal of the court that issued the judgment. It also identifies the plaintiff as the judgment creditor and the dollar amount of the judgment. Once a judgment creditor obtains an order for a writ of garnishment, he must serve notice of the order on the debtor’s employer. The employer must then deduct the court-approved amount from the employee’s wages, and remit the sum to the court. The court then disburses the amount to the judgment creditor. In most cases, a judgment creditor must apply to the court to obtain a writ of garnishment for each pay period.
In many states, a judgment creditor can garnish only a specified percentage of a judgment debtor’s weekly wages — usually 25% of the debtor’s disposable income. In addition, Social Security and disability income, as well as unemployment compensation and veteran’s or welfare benefits, are exempt from garnishment. Should a judgment debtor offer to pay the judgment creditor the remaining amount of the judgment owed, the writ of garnishment would be dissolved.