Stop wage garnishment after bankruptcy?

Dear Bankruptcy Adviser,
How do I stop a wage garnishment after I have filed bankruptcy? I don’t know how to get my employer to stop deducting the money from my paycheck even though I filed bankruptcy already.
— Gary

Dear Gary,
Since I don’t know where you live, I’m going to broadly answer your question assuming that the process is relatively similar from state to state.

For a creditor to take money directly from your paycheck, it must first obtain a court order. The only major exception to the court order is for student loans and taxes. Those government agencies can directly contact your employer to start garnishing wages for delinquent accounts.

The garnishment process is rather straightforward in the typical creditor case. The creditor sues you and obtains a judgment. The creditor then waits for a fixed period of time for you to appeal the judgment order. After the time period elapses, it can then request an order to garnish wages.

The creditor serves the garnishment order on the sheriff’s department, who then serves the order on your employer. The employer deducts the money from your paycheck and mails a check to the sheriff. The sheriff holds the money for a period ranging from seven to 30 days, then sends a check to the creditor. I am not certain whether all states require the sheriff to be involved.

Once you file bankruptcy, the garnishment can stop, but it does not automatically stop. Neither the creditor, your employer nor the sheriff receives immediate notification of the bankruptcy filing. It is you or your attorney’s responsibility to make sure all parties receive proper notification by mail, but also by fax or email notification of the filing.

I handle cases like this every week. I tell the client to send me the wage garnishment notice (called an Earnings Withholding Order) along with the name of the creditor or creditor’s attorney and a contact within my client’s payroll department.

Once I file the case, I immediately fax and email a letter to the creditor or creditor’s attorney. In that letter, I provide the sheriff’s information and the client’s employer payroll information to make it easy on the creditor even though the creditor already has some or all of that information.

The creditor must notify the sheriff to stop the garnishment. I also immediately notify the sheriff of the filing via fax and provide the employer payroll information.

From my experience, the creditor quickly notifies the sheriff. The delay occurs getting the sheriff to notify the employer to stop the garnishment. Because of budget cuts and overworked sheriff clerks, communicating with the sheriff can be difficult or impossible. Many times, the sheriff’s phone number listed on the garnishment order will ring and ring, and then just disconnect.

I have learned that patience is a virtue, but persistence is required. My office often has to follow up for days and weeks on end. In many cases, I only learn from the client that the garnishment stopped.

Filing and waiting on the creditor or sheriff will not be enough. You must follow up to confirm that the creditor’s attorney notified the sheriff and then try to confirm that the sheriff notified your employer. Failure to follow these steps will likely cause the garnishment to continue for a lot longer than necessary.

Good luck.

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