Limits on wage garnishment for alimony


#1

Dear tangled:

Greetings. Let’s see if I can’t answer these questions and concerns about your friend being raked over the coals.
True/False section of your post:

  1. Yes, and the judge can also order attorney fees, sanctions, and jail time for willfully failing to follow a court order. Once an agreement is incorporated, it is made into an order of the court.

  2. No, not for alimony. There are only limits on child support.

  3. That is up to the judge’s discretion, but typically yes.

Questions:

  1. Once again, there are no federal limits for something he signed on and agreed to. If he owns no property, that is not at issue either.

His ex can ask the judge to make him pay every month and request jail as an alternative. Yes, it appears under this agreement that his living standard may be that of living in an apartment or renting space.

Now, there are two possible options:

  1. File a motion to modify alimony. If alimony within the agreement was incorporated, then he can move the court to modify the alimony.

  2. File a claim for recission of the separation agreement and court order alleging unconscionability.

Good luck…and whatever he does make sure that he does it quickly, even if he has to borrow the funds. The longer he waits, the more it looks like he agrees with the order.

Also, please let everyone know why it is so important to hire an attorney when signing a separation agreement. Imagine the costs and heartache that your friend could have avoided if he only hired an attorney!

Janet L. Fritts
Attorney with Rosen Divorce
4101 Lake Boone Trail, Suite 500
Raleigh, North Carolina 27607
919.787.6668 main phone
919.256.1665 direct fax

10925 David Taylor Drive, Suite 100
Charlotte, North Carolina 28262
704.644.2831 main voice
704.307.4595 main fax

ROSENDIVORCE.COM

The response posted above is based upon the limited factual information made available and is not intended as a full and complete response to the question. The only reliable manner to obtain complete and adequate legal advice is to consult with an attorney, fully explain your situation, and allow the attorney sufficient opportunity to research the applicable law and facts required to render an accurate opinion. The basic information provided above is intended as a public service but a full discussion with an attorney should be undertaken before taking any action.


#2

Thanks for your response Janet. For my friend, it is not a question of having a house or not, it is a question of finding a furnished room to rent that he can afford. So I will take a moment and do my public service announcement:

DO NOT SIGN WITHOUT ATTORNEY REPRESENTATION!

Now, regarding federal limits on wage garnishment. You said that there are no federal restrictions on the amount of alimony that can be garnished from someone’s wages. I know law can be tricky to interpret, but that seems to contradict this statement from Fact Sheet #30, The Federal Wage Garnishment Law at the following Department of Labor site:

dol.gov/esa/regs/compliance/whd/whdfs30.htm)

Q: What about child support and alimony?

A: Specific restrictions apply to court orders for child support or alimony. The garnishment law allows up to 50 percent of a worker’s disposable earnings to be garnished for these purposes if the worker is supporting another spouse or child, or up to 60 percent if the worker is not. An additional 5 percent may be garnished for support payments more than l2 weeks in arrears.

Q: Are there any exceptions to the law?

A: The wage garnishment law specifies that the garnishment restrictions do not apply to certain bankruptcy court orders, or to debts due for federal or state taxes. If a state wage garnishment law differs from the CCPA, the law resulting in the smaller garnishment must be observed.

So what am I missing?</font id=“blue”>

Thanks again!

Thanks -


#3

Dear tangled:

Greetings. The statement you have about garnishment is, as I said before, not about something he agrees to. If he agrees to pay more than 50-60% of his pay for these things, I do not agree that the garnishment provision applies. Since the court would not likely be garnishing his wages if he does not pay, but instead holding him in contempt and likely putting him in jail if he does not pay, I don’t think that the concerns about garnishment are relevant.

I want to be clear that I am not saying there is not a limit to how much can be garnished, but I am saying that if he agrees, he can pay outside of what the law allows. Thank you.

Janet L. Fritts
Attorney with Rosen Divorce
4101 Lake Boone Trail, Suite 500
Raleigh, North Carolina 27607
919.787.6668 main phone
919.256.1665 direct fax

10925 David Taylor Drive, Suite 100
Charlotte, North Carolina 28262
704.644.2831 main voice
704.307.4595 main fax

ROSENDIVORCE.COM

The response posted above is based upon the limited factual information made available and is not intended as a full and complete response to the question. The only reliable manner to obtain complete and adequate legal advice is to consult with an attorney, fully explain your situation, and allow the attorney sufficient opportunity to research the applicable law and facts required to render an accurate opinion. The basic information provided above is intended as a public service but a full discussion with an attorney should be undertaken before taking any action.


#4

Hi Janet,

I have a friend who signed a separation agreement without legal representation that was subsequently incorporated into a divorce agreement. Very long story, but the alimony he thought he agreed to is not accurately reflected in the document that he actually signed.

He agreed to some temporary, short-term, big $$ assistance to cover some things with the understanding that the two of them would modify the agreement once those expenses went away, but the language her attorney crafted in the agreement used the term “alimony” to cover everything, including child related expenses relevant at the time. Unfortunately, he did not see the sleight of hand in terminology.

As a result, the agreement gives the appearance that he agreed to turn over 75% of his income to her for life as alimony, and in addition to that, pay college tuition and medical bills for his two children out of the remaining 25% - who will both be in college as of this fall. He has no way to really prove the true intent, and now she won’t agree to change the amount of “alimony” - even though a huge portion of the expenses he was covering no longer exist.

Anyway, he is truly financially strapped at this point. The agreement is crazy. There just isn’t enough money to go around to cover expenses. He doesn’t want to deny his ex alimony, he just wants to pay according to what he thought he agreed to. But she is refusing to negotiate and he doesn’t seem to have any legal grounds to get the agreement modified. He has now reached a certain point of desperation.

To that end, I would like to test my understanding of a few points. Please confirm that the following are true:

  1. If the person paying alimony decides on his own to reduce the amount of alimony without agreement from the ex, then the ex may take him to court and the judge can order payment.

  2. Assuming that the judge will order the payor’s wages be garnished, then there are both state and federal limits on how much can be garnished.

  3. If there are wage garnishment orders for both child support and alimony, the child support comes out first, and then the alimony.

Questions:

  1. What happens when the amount of child support plus alimony exceeds the state/federal limits on wage garnishment, AND the payor owns no property? (That is not a hypothetical question)

I understand that a judge could jail the person for failing to pay the alimony, but that seems counterproductive for the ex trying to collect alimony - if the payor isn’t working then there is no money at all.

Past a point, you can’t get blood from a turnip. Exactly how far can his ex go to collect alimony? Can she go so far as to render him homeless? Isn’t there a point at which he can draw a line? What else can he do to stop this madness?

Thanks -