Attachment of earnings
is a legal process
in civil litigation
by which a defendant
's wages or other earnings are taken to pay for a debt
. This collections
process is used in the common law
system, especially Britain
and the United States
, but in other legal regimes as well.
Ballentine's Law Dictionary notes that this process is not literal, whereby a "person's property is figuratively brought into the court.
The earnings seized may be wages, certain benefits, or sales commissions.
A sheriff, constable, or marshall enforces the court order.
In the United Kingdom
, an attachment of earning order can stop money being paid to a defendant.
Under British law, a self-employed, unemployed, or member of the armed forces can not have an attachment against them.
In Britain, the District Council can attach earnings. This may be by a physical removal of the money or other personal property. However, more commonly, the officer merely contacts the bank, landlord, employer, trustee, bailee or other person holding the property, with a certified copy of the order, for them to hand over the debtor's property for attachment; this is especially true with intangible personal property and real property.
At present four U.S. states — North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Texas — do not allow wage garnishment at all except for debts related to taxes, child support, federally guaranteed student loans, and court-ordered fines or restitution for a crime the debtor committed. Several other states observe maximum thresholds that are lower than the 25 percent maximum provided by federal law. States may also prohibit garnishment altogether in certain circumstances. For example, in Florida the wages of a person who provides more than half the support for a child or other dependent are exempt from garnishment altogether (though this exemption is subject to waiver).
In most jurisdictions in the United States, a limit of 10 percent of gross earnings may be taken for ordinary debts. However, 15 percent may be taken for student loans, and up to 40 percent for child support arrears , or even higher.
While some types of disability are exempt from attachment, only active duty members of the armed forces and disabled veterans are completely judgment proof.
In many American jurisdictions, attachment of earnings is treated the same as, or is just called, garnishment. This is when either earnings, and/or property may be taken by the court.