To garnish is to take property, most often a portion of someone's salary, by legal authority. Garnishment is a proceeding by a creditor to collect a debt by taking the property or assets of a debtor.

Wage garnishment is a court procedure where some of the debtor’s earnings are withheld by an employer to pay a debt to a creditor.

Judgment Creditor: the person who starts the process is called the judgment creditor or plaintiff.

Judgment Debtor: the person who owes money to the creditor is the judgment debtor or defendant.

Garnishee: the person holding the property of, or who is indebted to the defendant, is the garnishee. An employer may be a garnishee because the employer owes wages to the employee.

Wage Garnishment Procedure in District Court

Note: the following processes are based on District Court Rules of Procedure. They apply if judgment was entered in the District Court of Maryland. See Md. Rules Title 3, Chapter 600. The rules for garnishing property in Circuit Court are very similar, however, there may be some differences. If judgment was entered in Circuit Court, you may have to draft your own motions and requests. Rules regarding garnishments for child support are not the same as rules regarding garnishment for other debts.  If you have questions about court procedure, talk to a lawyer. Read the Rules:  Maryland Rules, Title 3, Chapter 600

A creditor begins the wage garnishment process by filing a Request for Garnishment on Wages (Form DC/CV65) with the court. After the request is filed, the court clerk or a judge signs the Request and it becomes a Writ of Garnishment. A “writ” is a formal command ordering a person or entity to take some action. A Writ of Garnishment is a court order to the garnishee (employer). It orders the garnishee (employer) to hold any property, typically wages, of the judgment debtor (employee) that the garnishee (employer) has at the time the Writ is filed.

The Writ of Garnishment must be served on the garnishee (employer) via certified mail, restricted delivery, private process or sheriff/constable. For more information on service of process see Frequently Asked Questions about "Service."

The judgment creditor must pay court fees to file the Request for Garnishment on Wages and may also incur fees to serve the garnishee (employer) with the Writ of Garnishment. Interest also grows on most judgments as time passes. These fees, costs and interest may be added to the judgment. See Md. Code, Commercial Law 15-602. It’s a good idea for employers to communicate with the judgment creditor and the debtor to make sure the right amount of money is paid to the judgment creditor.

The employer (garnishee) must file an answer to the Writ within 30 days of being served. The employer must indicate if the debtor is employed, his or her rate of pay, and any existing wage garnishments. If the employer (garnishee) does not respond to the Writ of Garnishment, the employer (garnishee) may be held in contempt of court and the judgment creditor may receive a default judgment against the garnishee.

Read the Rule: Md. Rule 3-646

After the Writ is served on the employer, the employer (garnishee) must determine the amount of “garnishable wages” for each pay period and must withhold wages as directed by the Writ until the judgment is satisfied, or until the court orders the employer to stop withholding. The employer (garnishee) does this by reporting and distributing to the creditor, or the creditor’s attorney, the total amount of wages withheld within 15 days after the close of the employee’s last pay period in that month.  If another garnishment is received, the employer must follow the same procedures, however, payment to a second or subsequent creditor should not be paid until the first garnishment is paid in full. Once the first garnishment is completely paid, the next one will go into effect. Thus, if there are multiple garnishments then the first one must be satisfied in full before any later garnishments are paid.

Read the Law: Md. Code, Commercial Law § 15-603

Judgment creditors must first apply payments to accrued interest on the judgment, then against the principal amount of the judgment, and lastly against attorney's fees and court costs assessed against the debtor (employee).  The garnishee (employer) must inform the debtor (employee) each pay period of the amount withheld and the method used to determine the amount.  This information can be provided on the pay stub.

Within 15 days after the end of each month that the judgment creditor receives payment from the employer (garnishee), the creditor must mail the garnishee (employer) and the debtor (employee) a statement listing the payments that were received and how they were applied to the judgment principal, costs, interest and fees. This form is not filed with the court, but the creditor must keep a copy of each statement until 90 days after the garnishment terminates. Any party or the court may ask to look at each statement. If you are not sure how much money the judgment debtor (employee) still owes, ask the judgment creditor for a copy of this statement.

Read the Rule: Md. Rule 3-646

The employer must also tell the court and all parties if the debtor (employee) stops working or is fired. In this case, the garnishment terminates 90 days after the end of employment, unless the debtor (employee) is re-employed during that period. If there is more than one garnishment, each garnishment must be paid in full in the order it was served on the employer.

An employer may not fire or dismiss an employee simply because the employee's wages are being garnished.

Federal law limits the amount of earnings that can be garnished to 25 percent of the debtor’s disposable income. Disposable income is the amount of earnings present after legally required deductions (e.g. federal or state taxes, Social Security, unemployment, medical insurance.) For debtors earning near minimum wage, the debtor must be left with an amount equal to 30 times the federal minimum hourly wage.  This rule does not necessarily apply for collection of child support or past due child support.

Read the Law: 15 USC 1673

Penalties

If the garnishee (employer) fails to comply with the law, he or she may be cited for contempt of court and assessed attorney’s fees and court cost.

Read the Rule: Md. Rule 3-645

Defenses by Garnishee (employer)

A garnishee (employer) can oppose the garnishment by filing a motion with the Court.  An employer is not required to turn over property that is not in the employer's possession, or to collect from the employee any tips that have been paid directly to the employee by the employer's customers. An Employer may also claim that the garnishment sought by the creditor are exempt earnings that belong to the debtor (employee). The court may release some or all of the property if the judgment has been vacated, has expired, or has been satisfied, if property is exempt, or if the judgment creditor fails to comply with court rules.

Statement of Satisfaction

Once the total amount is paid off, the judgment creditor must file a written statement indicating the amount has been satisfied. If they fail to do so, then the debtor may file a motion to declare that the judgment has been satisfied. If the creditor fails to comply with the provisions of the law, the garnishment may be dismissed and creditor may be assessed attorney’s fees and costs.

Source: 

Lonni Summers, Esq., Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service; updated by Amy Hennen, Esq., MVLS

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