Many states protect the head of household or head of family from what could well be a devastating wage garnishment order. Usually a debtor can invoke this protection by filing a timely claim of household exemption with the court. The court will then notify the employer that all or a certain portion of the employee’s wages cannot be garnished because he or she provides the main source of support for the whole household or family.
Wage Garnishment Order
Often based on a Judgment, a wage garnishment order is an order from the court directing the employer to withhold a certain portion of the employee’s wages and pay them over to the creditor or its agent. When unpaid taxes or school loans are involved, the levy may come directly from the taxing authority or pertinent administrative agency without being converted into a court order.
Garnishment Limitations Imposed by Federal Law
The Consumer Credit Protection Act (“CCPA”) protects all borrowers in all states from wage garnishments that seek more than 25% of the debtor-employees disposable income, or all income up to 30 times the minimum wage. However, the Act DOES NOT include any special exemption for the head of the household or family, even though the garnishment may put the household/family into severe economic hardship. Instead, head of household exemptions exist only at the state level.
State Law “Head of Household” or “Head of Family”
Simply put, the head of household or head of family is the person who provides the main financial support for the household or the family – the person who pays most of the rent or mortgage, utilities, food and essentials necessary for the household or family to survive. That person does not have to be the husband, wife, natural mother or father, and in some states, need not be related to anyone in the household.
Exemption from Wage Garnishment for Head of Household
The head of household or head of family exemption vindicates an important public policy in those states that recognize it, protecting households and families from being put on the street or placed on the public dole as a result of wage garnishment for unpaid debts.
In those states that recognize the exemption, the exemption provides protection from wage garnishments above and beyond those already provided by the CCPA. Some states like Florida provide 100% protection against wage garnishments except where certain debts like child support or taxes are involved. Other states protect lesser amounts, but more than the CCPA.
Asserting Exemption Status
Time is always of the essence when asserting exemption from wage garnishment. As soon as the employee learns of the wage garnishment, he should ascertain the exact number of days within which he must file the exemption.
Usually the exemption is a form, but sometimes it must be asserted in a motion or raised as a defense and proven at an evidentiary hearing before the judge. Some states have very short deadlines (as little as three days), while others may allow as many as 30 days. Filing late may, regardless of the reason, result in loss of the right to assert the head of household exemption.
In any case, claiming the head of household or head of family exemption is, by its very nature, a hugely important action for those that qualify. Always act quickly to gather this evidence if you are an employee, and wait for the court’s decision on the matter if you are the employer.
Federal Statute: Title III, Consumer Credit Protection Act (CCPA), 15 USC, §§1671 et seq.
Code of Federal Regulations: 29 CFR Part 870
Explanatory Brochures and Regulatory Materials Online: www.dol.gov/whd, www.wagehour.dol.gov
U.S. Wage and Hour Division: Fact Sheet #30 – The Federal Wage Garnishment Law, Consumer Credit Protection Act’s Title III (CCPA)
Field Operations Handbook – 02/09/2001, Rev. 644, Chapter 16, Title III – Consumer Credit Protection Act (Wage Garnishment)
General Consumer Information: http://www.debt.org/garnishment-process/