How to File a Garnishment or Lawsuit

by Michael Wolfe ; Updated July 27, 2017

Some creditors, seeking to collect on money owed them, will file a lawsuit in civil court against the debtor. If the judge who hears the debt case finds that the debtor does indeed owe the creditor, he will issue a civil judgment against the debtor. Once a civil judgment has been issued, the creditor has a number of legal actions that he can take to claim the money. Among these is wage garnishment, in which money is diverted from the debtor's paycheck and given the creditor. To receive a garnishment, the creditor must follow several steps.

Step 1

File a civil lawsuit. Before a garnishment can be initiated, you must first have a court grant you a civil judgment against the debtor. Depending on the complexity of the debt, you may wish to have a lawyer aid you in preparing the lawsuit against the debtor. However, in some cases, particularly if the debt is a small or simple one, you may be able to file the claim yourself. Then wait for the judge to grant the judgment.

Step 2

File a motion for wage garnishment. The exact method you must use to file this motion will depend on the rules of the court in which you file it, which will vary by state and county. Again, unless the procedure is relatively simple, you may need an experienced attorney to help you prepare this motion. In all cases, garnishments must first be ordered by a judge; you cannot attempt to garnish a debtor's wages extrajudicially.

Step 3

Present the order of garnishment to the employer. As with the procedures necessary to receive the order of garnishment, the exact process by which the order of garnishment will be presented to the debtor's employee will vary by jurisdiction. In some cases, the creditor himself will be required to present the order to the employer. However, in other cases, the creditor will present the order to a law enforcement official, such as a sheriff, who will deliver the order. Check with your county clerk for specifics.

Step 4

Respond to challenges to the garnishment's validity. In many jurisdictions, after a garnishment has been issued, the debtor will have the opportunity to challenge its validity before it can be executed. In such a case, you may have to appear in court and defend arguments about the garnishment. Again, having a lawyer in such a situation can be a valuable asset. A judge will then hear the objection and re-rule on the garnishment.

About the Author

Michael Wolfe has been writing and editing since 2005, with a background including both business and creative writing. He has worked as a reporter for a community newspaper in New York City and a federal policy newsletter in Washington, D.C. Wolfe holds a B.A. in art history and is a resident of Brooklyn, N.Y.