How to Claim the Florida Exemption to Stop a Wage Garnishment

If a monetary judgment has been entered against you by a court in the State of Florida, there are several methods by which the judgment holder can collect payment. One involves a “bank levy” in which a checking or savings account may be frozen in order for the funds to be withdrawn to pay the judgment holder. Another involves a “wage garnishment” in which earned income is intercepted from an employer for payment to the judgment holder. However, if you meet the criteria as “head-of-household,” then it may be possible unfreeze a bank levy, and stop a wage garnishment.  For a more detailed explanation on the legal requirements of claiming a wage garnishment exemption, see my post “Florida’s Wage Garnishment Exemption May Protect Current Income and Accumulated Savings.”

Under Florida law, a head-of-household may be able to claim an exemption from garnishment by filing an Affidavit and Claim of Exemption form with the Clerk of Court located in the county where the judgment was entered.  (A different procedure may apply to stop a garnishment that has already been granted.)  A sample of these wage exemption forms is included here for informational purposes only.  Note that these forms are keyed for Dade County, Florida and it may be necessary to contact the specific Clerk of Court to obtain copies of the forms used in a particular county.  Once the affidavit and exemption forms are completed and notarized, the documents must be filed with the Clerk of Court, and copies served on the plaintiff who holds the judgment.  If the judgment holder objects to the claim of exemption within two to seven days, depending upon the form of service that is used, then a hearing will be scheduled.  The purpose of a hearing is to allow the debtor an opportunity to prove their status as head-of-household, and their right to claim the exemption.  The failure of the plaintiff to object within this time frame will typically result in the garnishment being stopped, without the need for a hearing.

Filing bankruptcy is also an option for stopping a garnishment or unfreezing a bank account levy.  One advantage to filing bankruptcy is that it will not only stop the garnishment process, but will also discharge the underlying debt in most circumstances.  However, the ability to discharge a debt secured by a judgment depends upon numerous factors that are best discussed with a bankruptcy attorney.

Claiming a wage garnishment exemption outside of filing bankruptcy is a fairly straightforward process, but certain specific legal procedures must be followed in order for it to be done correctly.  Otherwise, the court may reject the exemption on the grounds of failing to properly complete the forms, or failing to properly serve the plaintiff.  And it should be noted that even if a plaintiff is prevented from levying a bank account, or garnishing a wage, there may be other means available for attempting to collect on the judgment that can be used in the future.  As an alternative, bankruptcy may not only put a stop to these types of current collections efforts, and may eliminate the debt from possible future collection.  Again, discharging a debt that is subject to a judgment can be a complicated matter that is best discussed with a bankruptcy attorney who can appropriately evaluate the specific facts of your situation.  But a qualified bankruptcy attorney should also be able to advise a potential client of their non-bankruptcy options since filing is not always the best solution to every problem.

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