Wage Garnishments and Bank Garnishments
I have provided the information below to help people dealing with wage and bank garnishments. Bankruptcy will stop both wage and bank garnishments. The automatic stay in Bankruptcy law stops the garnishment cold. The creditor is forced to immediately dismiss the garnishment lawsuit when a bankruptcy petition is filed.
In the State of Georgia, the following takes place in a wage or bank garnishment action. In order to file a wage or bank garnishment, the creditor must have obtained a judgment against you in Court prior to the garnishment action. To obtain a judgment the creditor files a lawsuit against you and waits to see if you file an answer. IT IS IMPORTANT TO DETERMINE IF YOU WERE EVER PERSONALLY SERVED WITH THE LAWSUIT. If the creditor serves you personally or serves an adult at your residence with the lawsuit, you have been served and the clock is ticking for you to file an answer to their lawsuit. You should be aware that collection firms will attempt to serve you at a location where you may have previously lived with the address they have on file from the credit card application or billing address and then claim to the Judge they have served you by serving someone you don’t even know at your former address. If you have no knowledge of the judgment that has been obtained against you then your first step is to investigate the state court case file where the judgment that was obtained against you to see how the creditor claims they served you and if they have a valid judgment. On the face of the garnishment lawsuit, the creditor is supposed to list the Court and the amount of the judgment obtained against you. If the judgment was obtained out of state then you should contact the Clerk of the Court for the specific out of state Court and obtain copies of the summons, complaint, entry of service, and Judgment.
The creditor filing the garnishment must serve you if you are in-state by certified mail or overnight personal delivery with a copy of the garnishment action at your last known address within three days of having served your bank or employer with the garnishment action. Keep in mind the timeline. Creditor files the garnishment with the Court, Garnishment is served by the Sheriff on the bank or employer, and the bank or employer must start remitting what funds they are holding to the Clerk every 31 days. The 3 days start for you to be served on the day the bank or employer is served. If you were not served at your residence or last known address, you have a valid defense to the garnishment being dismissed. Service on you does not mean getting a copy of the garnishment from your employer. If you did get a letter from the creditor much later, keep the envelope the garnishment was sent to you in with the postmark and notice of certified mail to determine if the creditor complied or not. It is important to note that if the creditor sent the notice of garnishment to you certified mail return receipt requested and you refuse delivery or to pick it up at the post office, all the creditor has to do is file the notice of non-delivery with the Clerk to establish service upon you.
It is important to understand that by the time a garnishment action has been served upon you there is very little you can do to stop it short of bankruptcy. If you are going to contest the garnishment, you must file an answer (or traverse) with the State Court Clerk where the garnishment has been filed within 15 days of the bank or employer furnishing their answer to the Court. The statute does not specify a specific number of days to file a traverse, but if you have not filed one within 45 days of the bank or employer being served you are probably out of luck in recovering whatever the bank or the employer has sent to the Clerk of the Court so far. In Georgia the only defenses to the garnishment are whether the underlying judgment is valid, the amount of the judgment is valid, and whether the creditor filed and served the garnishment according to the Georgia Statutes. Even if you file a traverse the bank or employer is forced to comply with remitting your property or wages until such time as the Court orders otherwise which could be weeks after you file the traverse. If the creditor produces a Judgment that was incorrectly obtained, you have to file a separate action in the state court where the Judgment was obtained. The Court handling the garnishment can then decide whether to stop the garnishment until the other Court who issued the judgment can determine if the judgment is valid or not. Keep in mind that even if you win your traverse case and the garnishment is dismissed, the creditor can come back next month with a new garnishment action if they have a valid judgment.
Bank account garnishments can be very devastating to you financially. When a bank is served with a garnishment, the first action they take is to flag any account with your social security number on it and freeze the money in those accounts. The bank can also block any safety deposit box you may have with them. The bank must then remit whatever property they have in their possession to the Clerk of the Court after 30 days of being served with the garnishment. Nothing stops this from happening until either a bankruptcy is filed and a dismissal of the case is filed by the creditor or the Judge, or the garnishment is dismissed by the Judge at your traverse hearing. If your credit is lousy or you have judgments against you, never put yourself on a bank account with your elderly parent or charitable organization. Because if your name and social security number is on that account, the bank will freeze the entire account. The only way to get the money back is to file a traverse on behalf of the elderly parent and it could be weeks before the Judge dismisses the garnishment.
Creditors have routinely been filing bank garnishments against joint bank accounts. They hope that the joint owner will just let it go without a fight since it is usually a husband and wife checking account. If you are a joint holder of a bank account and the judgment is not against you, then you need to file a traverse in the bank garnishment action to fight this. If a creditor files against a joint account, they are only entitled to the portion of money in the account that the garnished party has contributed to the account. If you are the only one working and the person being garnished is not, the creditor is not entitled to the money in your bank account that the person being garnished put in there.