Once you have a judgment it is natural to ask: now what? We can answer that. This isn’t a comprehensive explanation of how to collect, but rather to explain the broad strokes of garnishments. The writ of garnishment discussed here is only for those situations in which an actual judgment has been rendered by a Court.
Writs of Garnishment
Arguably the best collection method is a writ of garnishment. This process is governed by RCW 6.27 . Most people are familiar with the concept of having wages garnished and the general understanding of the term is correct. Legally, a writ of garnishment is a command by the court to the “garnishee” to 1. inform the creditor how much money the garnishee is “indebted” to the debtor, and 2. to not pay that "indebtedness." Simply put, a writ of garnishment directs a bank or employer to withhold the funds owed to the judgment debtor to satisfy the creditor’s judgment.
A garnishment starts with an application for a writ of garnishment presented to the court clerk describing the judgment, interests, anticipated costs, etc. The creditor prepares the writ of garnishment and if the clerk of the court is satisfied with the application, then the clerk will issue the writ. The writ of garnishment is then sent to the judgment debtor and the garnishee (bank or employer usually) along with an answer and some minor forms. The Garnishee will then prepare the “answer” to indicate how much money the garnishee has belonging to the judgment debtor and send that answer to the judgment creditor’s attorney, judgment debtor, and to the issuing court. The creditor and debtor then each have about a month to dispute that answer through a process known as controverting a garnishee answer. That process is rare.
For financial institution garnishees the judgment creditor will, after a set amount of time, motion the court for a “judgment on garnishee answer” and an “order to pay” that will grant a new judgment against the garnishee for the amount of money the garnishee is withholding and a new judgment against the judgment debtor for the attorney fees and costs on garnishment. The order to pay directs the garnishee to pay the withheld funds to the judgment creditor (either directly or through the clerk’s office).
For an employer garnishee the judgment creditor must first obtain a “second answer” from the garnishee that informs the amount of money the garnishee has withheld for the 60 days that a continuing lien on earnings garnishment is effective for. After obtaining the second answer, the judgment on garnishee answer and order to pay motions are brought to the Court.
Frequently asked questions:
Can I recover attorney fees for the costs of a garnishment?
Yes, however you can only recover up to $300 in attorney fees. You cannot always recover even $300, but for judgments over $3,000 you can. Small claims judgments are unique and don't follow this rule as uniformly.
Why are there so many steps if the Court already determined that the debtor owes me money?
It is important to realize that the state legislature has certain protections for judgment debtors. Debtors wages are in part “exempt” such that there is a minimum amount of money that the judgment debtors will receive even when wages are being garnished. Furthermore, the various steps ensure accuracy and due process for all parties.
Should I hire an attorney?
Yes, and you should hire Baner and Baner Law Firm. Self-promotion aside it is usually best to hire an attorney to do garnishments. The process is not difficult, but it is technical. It requires at least one motion to the Court as well. Also, oftentimes small businesses do not understand the garnishment process fully and the creditor’s attorney is probably more capable of convincing them the proper route. Overall, you hire an attorney to avoid spending a large amount of time yourself trying to figure out the process and in the end you should be able to recover at least some of the attorney fees.
Jonathan Baner handles all of the firm's collection practice including garnishments, executions, attachments, lien foreclosures, etc. He has creditors against debtors or debtors against creditors in countless collection actions. He may be contacted by e-mail at Jonathan@BanerBaner.com.