Make a claim of exemption for wage garnishment
Wage garnishment is when a judgment creditor (someone you owe money to after a court order) or debt collector has your employer take up to 20% of your wages to pay the money you owe. If this prevents you from paying for your family’s basic needs, you can file a Claim of Exemption to ask to lower the amount being taken.
Important things to know
- By law, your employer cannot fire you for a single wage garnishment.
- The sooner you act, the sooner your wage garnishment can be stopped or reduced.
File the Claim of Exemption with the levying officer
Take or mail the original and one copy to the person identified as the levying officer. The levying officer is identified in the upper right-hand corner of the Earnings Withholding Order. This is usually the sheriff, but in some cases, the levying officer could be someone else.
The sheriff keeps the original and sends a copy to the judgment creditor or debt collector.
Wait to see if the claim is opposed
The judgment creditor or debt collector has 10 days to respond.
The judgment creditor or debt collector can continue to garnish your wages while you wait. But, they will be returned if you win your claim.
Reply to the opposition (if any)
If the judgment creditor or debt collector opposed your Claim of Exemption, read the papers to find out why.
You can reply to show the court clarifying facts, documents, or other evidence to support your Claim of Exemption.
A reply is optional, but if you choose to do it, you must file it with the court at least five court days before the hearing.
Check if your court uses tentative rulings
In some courts, the court posts (usually on its website) how it intends to rule the day before the hearing. This is called a tentative ruling.
In these courts, your hearing will be canceled unless you call to say you still want the hearing. If your hearing is canceled, the ruling the court posted will become final.
Before your hearing, contact your court clerk and ask if there’s a tentative ruling process.
Go to the hearing
If you have a hearing, it is your job to prove to the court that you qualify for an exemption. To do this:
- Tell the court how it will be impossible for you to pay for your family's basic needs if the money is taken from your paycheck. The other side may say it is not true.
- Bring evidence that shows you can't afford to have the money taken. This might be your paychecks, bank statements, and bills.
After hearing from both sides, the court will decide whether to grant your claim or not. If you win, the court will order the sheriff to stop or reduce the garnishment and return the exempt money.