The bad news for people in Connecticut who owe money is that their creditors—once they have sued and won, thereby establishing their legal right to be paid—can use garnishment to take a portion of the debtor’s wages, or money in the debtor’s bank account, or pension or insurance benefits owed to the debtor.
(Note: garnishment is available for any debt, including debts resulting from professional malpractice, auto accidents, breach of contract, slip-and-fall lawsuits, etc. Its most common use, however, are for consumer debts, including credit cards, alimony/child support, or taxes.)
The good news for Connecticut debtors that Connecticut exempts, or protects, many forms of non-wage and non-salary income from garnishment. If a debtor is one public assistance or receiving retirement benefits, that income has considerable protection from garnishment. (Unfortunately, what a debtor is paid for working is fair game for creditors.)
At the start, federal law protects Social Security is from most garnishment: Social Security can only be garnished for “domestic” debts such as child support or alimony, or certain federal debts, like taxes.
However, Connecticut goes further than the federal requirements, and makes Social Security entirely exempt from garnishment.
In addition, Connecticut, makes the following non-wage, non-salary sources of income exempt, too.
Connecticut, for lower-income residents, is slightly more protective or generous than federal law or most other states. Under Connecticut law, the lesser of the following may be garnished:
The second criteria or threshold is intended to allow a debtor something to live on: at least the equivalent each week of 40 hours worked at minimum wage.
“Disposable income” in common usage is income left over after all required or necessary expenses, including food and housing. For garnishment purposes, however, disposable income is any and all income left after legally required deductions from someone’s paycheck (such as FICA) are taken out. This means that most income is “disposable income, and as a rough rule of thumb, assume that for people making much over minimum wage, that 25% of around 90% of their income could be garnished.
In addition, note that there are certain debts, (e.g. child support, taxes), where more than 25% of the debtor’s income can be garnished.
Once a creditor has a judgment in its favor, it has a LONG time to look to garnish the debtor’s wages (or otherwise enforce the judgment): at least 10 years for a small claims court judgment, or at least 20 years for judgments rendered in other courts.
Of course, first it has to get that favorable judgment, which means that the creditor must have sued on the underlying debt or cause of action in a timely fashion. For the most common consumer debts, the times to sue (statutes of limitation) are:
This is important because if it’s too late to sue, it’s also too late to garnish.
Getting the judgment is the difficult part, because it involves bringing and winning a lawsuit. Once a creditor has a judgment, in order to garnish debtor’s wages, it merely has to apply in writing to the court, stating that money is due it on a judgment; that garnishment is believed necessary; and that someone called the “garnishee” (e.g. debtor’s employer) is believed to have money available and owed to the debtor (e.g. debtor’s salary or wages) to satisfy the debt.
The court then serves paperwork on the garnishee to verify that it has money owed to the debtor. The garnishee can try to challenge the “facts” of the garnishment—
—but it cannot challenge the creditor’s basic right to garnish debtor’s wages garnished. If a garnishee does not comply with the garnishment, the garnishee may become liable for the monies owed—which presents them with a strong incentive to comply! More on Stopping Wage Garnishment in Connecticut.
If someone is faced with garnishment, they should seek legal assistance. Some things to try are:
Attacking the underlying judgment on which garnishment is based. This will be difficult, if not impossible, IF the judgment was already fully and fairly litigated. However, if the judgment was rendered in error, such as by “default” when the reason for default was that the debtor was never served properly, there may be grounds to set it aside. Another possibility is to attack the underlying debt as too old, based on the statute of limitations—though since Connecticut’s statutes are on the longer side, that’s not as good a strategy here as in other states.
Challenge the garnishment as too old—i.e. past the statute of limitations—though again, Connecticut’s long limitations periods make this difficult.
Show that much, most, or all of debtor’s income is exempt, which will reduce debtor’s disposable income and therefore the amount available for garnishment. Since Connecticut is at least as generous—if not more—than most other states in this regard, it is a good idea to look into this.
Show that debtor is already “fully garnished” by other obligations, such as child support, and therefore can’t be forced to pay more.