What happens after a bank is served a writ of garnishment in Washington State? It is easy to think that the process is basically over, and money will arrive any minute. Like many legal processes, there is some nuance to consider. In this article we address the timeline for writs of garnishment directed to banks and specifically the timelines for bank garnishments.
The basic timeline to consider is detailed in the following table. The minimum and maximum amount of days required for each step can fluctuate between courts and even within the same court depending on the time of year other factors.
The bank has 20 days to answer from the date they received the writ. When they receive the writ is sometimes not clear. Often a bank is served a writ of garnishment at the most local location, but will then be processed internally to a centralized location (often out of state). Typically, a bank actually take 20 days to answer, but will answer within the required timeline.
Contests and exemptions
After the bank answers there is a 20 day period for both sides to "controvert" (contest) the answer that the bank provides. This is often misunderstood as a chance to complain about the underlying judgment. This is a mistake that attorneys and judges both can make. The 20-day period is only to contest the answer. Only a tiny percentage of the time will anyone challenge the bank answer because, simply, banks generally correctly answer the writs of garnishment.
This same time period (technically 21 days after service on the bank) is where the debtor can claim exemptions. This is most applicable if funds are community property, social security, retirement, or other protected ("exempt") property. These are important rights that the debtor has, but if not raised will be waived.
Finalize that garnishment!
After the waiting period it is time for the Court to evaluate if the garnishment was all done properly. We refer to this period as "finalization" and involves asking the Court to award a judgment against the garnishee (which is the bank in this article) and increase the judgment against the debtor for the costs and some added fees ($300 typically). This is a motion to the Court with supporting documentation, and it is a motion that is typically granted unless something strange happened (strange things happen!). Courts vary on how long this motion will take to be ruled on. King and Pierce Superior Court will typically rule on it within 48 hours, but most other courts take several days. Some courts take many weeks.
Interesting note: The current record for us was about 9 months for a court to grant a motion for judgment on answer of garnishment ("finalization"). That court had experienced a great deal of turnover in its clerk's office and is an outlier. The number 2 spot is closer to 6 weeks.
Boring delays that add up!
After the Court grants the judgment on answer of garnishee ("finalization") a process of boring delays begins. A couple courts (King and Pierce mostly) immediately provide the results of their decision to the creditor, but most mail it. That, naturally, takes time for the piece of paper to go through the mail. The Court mails it to the attorney for the creditor, who then mails it to the garnishee (bank).
Once the bank receives the order from the Court, the bank will process it and generally send funds it has withheld fairly quickly. We recommend putting a time period on the order for the Court to sign off on to encourage compliance but the absolute most a bank will send the funds within 30 days. By and large it gets sent much quicker.
Superior court judgments are supposed to be paid to the clerk of court, and district court judgments to the attorney directly. Mistakes happen (frequently). When paid to the Court, as described in the table, there is about a 3 to 20 day timeline delay for the Court to forward the funds (larger payments take longer is the general rule). The next big hurdle is ensuring the funds clear the law firm's trust accounting and ethical requirements, which creates a significant additional time period.
But what if <thing>
Yes, there are things. There are always things. Things go right and things go wrong. It takes experienced and knowledgeable attorneys to be able to address those things when they arise. You cannot worry about every possible contingency. Most of them have solutions to be applied when needed.
So that took forever!
Sort of, yes. The process can be exceptionally slow once everything is taken into account. The good news is that the money is reasonably secured as soon as the writ is served on the garnishee.
After many years and many disbursements, one recommendation remains unchanged: do not spend your garnishment proceeds until you receive them.