Wage garnishment is one way to collect child support arrears

Using Wage Garnishment

It’s funny how getting your ex to help pay for their children’s needs can feel like pulling teeth. He does everything he can to avoid paying while you get stuck with the bill. Luckily, there are strategies to collect child support arrears from obligors who are unwilling (as opposed to unable) to pay their child support. One of those strategies is wage garnishment.

According to the Department of Labor, wage garnishment is the procedure of a court ordering an employer to withhold a person’s earnings to pay off a debt. In this case, unpaid child support.

Types of Earnings that Can Be Garnished

There are several types of earnings that can be garnished. You’ll note that not all of these are recurring; lump-sum payments can be garnished as well. These include:

  • Wages and salaries (including tips)
  • Bonuses and commissions
  • Pensions and retirement payments
  • Severance
  • Insurance settlements

How Does It Work?

As long as you have a judgment, you can get authorization through the court for wage garnishment. This is not something the court will automatically do; you need to file the correct paperwork with them, proving how much is owed and where they work. To get anywhere with this, thoroughly check that the correct paperwork is filled out in the correct way and sent to the correct place. Otherwise, you could get caught in an already sluggish bureaucratic logjam.

If you are trying to garnish wages from an obligor who has no interest in paying and doesn’t want to be found, finding where they are and who their employer is will take a tremendous amount of time and work. Then it may change by the time you file. This can be a time consuming, infuriating process on your own. And that’s before figuring out how and where to file on your own. If your ex is trying to stay hidden, Athena has advanced, non-public tools to find him and where he works, then provide you with the pre-filled, state-specific documents you need and step-by-step instructions on how and where to file, eliminating so much stress from the process.

Once filed, the court will notify the employer, who will inform the non-paying obligor. They will have a short amount of time, five to thirty days, to dispute the garnishment, but it will be on them to prove their wages shouldn’t be garnished. The employer will calculate the amount owed to you and send you the money when their payroll runs. 


The court order can’t garnish 100% of a paycheck, though. Before anything happens, federal and state governments want their share of the taxes (because nothing happens until taxes are paid), and then they are required to leave at least 30 hours per week at the federal minimum wage. The current minimum wage is $7.25, leaving the obligor $217.50 per week. If he earns more than 40 hours a week on minimum wage though ($290), up to 60% of his wages can be garnished to cover child support arrears, with an additional 5% for payments more than 12 weeks in arrears.

Wage Execution vs. Withholding

It should be noted that wage execution and wage withholdings are two different things. Wage execution is a one-time payment meant to cover child support arrears, while wage withholdings are recurring payments of a specific amount of money. 

Wage execution has no limit to the amount of money that can be garnished, while wage withholdings can only take the amount for each child support payment. Wage execution takes what is in arrears, while wage withholdings take current payments. However, these two can be done simultaneously so that current payments come in AND arrears are paid.

If your ex refuses to pay his child support, but you know where he works, wage garnishment is one of the most common strategies for collecting arrears. Depending on your situation, it may not cover all the arrears, but it can provide your family with a much-needed check and be an excellent first step.


This blog has been written for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice. For legal advice specific to your case, you should contact an attorney.

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