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Garnishment refers to a court ordered process for collecting on a judgment, which takes money directly from the defendant’s wages or other third party who owes the defendant a debt. A garnishment order instructs a third-party who owes money to the defendant, typically the defendant’s employer or the defendant’s bank, to pay some or all of that money to the plaintiff instead of the defendant. This third party is called a garnishee.

A court might garnish a defendant's wages for a variety of reasons including to pay child support, student loans, or back taxes. The federal Consumer Credit Protection Act limits wage garnishments to 25% of an employee's take-home pay, or 30 times the federal minimum wage, whichever is less. Additionally, many states have further restrictions on wage garnishments. For example, in Florida wages earned by the head of a household are deemed exempt wages and are therefore not subject to garnishment. 

A few courts allow plaintiffs to request wage garnishment even before the plaintiff wins his or her case as a provisional remedy under Rule 64(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Typically, however, courts prefer to use other provisional remedies like attachment.

[Last updated in January of 2023 by the Wex Definitions Team