Bankruptcy Law Blog

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Not the Good Kind of Garnish

During Season 14 of The Simpsons, there is an episode called “Barting Over” where Bart petitions a court for emancipation after learning that his parents made a bunch of money by putting him in embarrassing commercials when he was a baby. Money which Homer was supposed to invest, but actually spent.   

The following dialogue is from the courtroom scene:

Homer: (to Bart) Son, I just want you to know, whatever that judge decides, I'm gonna be the best dad I can.

Judge Harm: No judge would send a pre-teen out on his own.

Homer: Woo-Hoo! You're still mine! And you thought I was a bad dad before!

Judge Harm: Except in this case! (Homer pulls his shirt collar nervously and cringes) That boy is about as safe living with you as a crawdad in a gumbo shack. Bart Simpson, I declare you emancipated. Further, I hereby garnish Homer's wages until Bart is fully repaid.

Homer: Mmmmm...garnish.

Judge Harm: That means half your paycheck goes to Bart.

Homer: What the...half goes to Bart, half goes to my Vegas wife. What's left for Moe?

Marge: Homer, don't make things worse!

Homer: I'll show you worse! (he screams and runs towards Judge Harm; the bailiff catches him and drags him out) I WAS TOLD THIS WOULD BE TELEVISED!!!

Bart uses the money that is garnished from Homer’s paycheck to move out of the house and into a loft apartment in downtown Springfield where the pro skateboarder Tony Hawk also lives. With a little help from Mr. Hawk, the family reconciles and Homer agrees to appear in an ad for an impotence drug to make the money needed to pay Bart back.

The Opposite of Mmmmm

Wage garnishments aren’t often as dramatic as portrayed on The Simpsons, but they are, as Homer’s response indicates, frequently misunderstood.

In its most basic form, a wage garnishment is a court order directing an employer to withhold part of an employee's earnings and pay it directly to a creditor until the debt is paid off.

If there is no court order in place, there should be no wage garnishment happening. Debtors who think their wages are being improperly garnished should talk with a lawyer as soon as possible because a wage garnishment without a court order is theft.

No matter how much someone owes, there are limits on how much can be garnished from one’s paycheck. Most creditors cannot garnish more than 25% of your disposable earnings (the amount that remains after mandatory deductions) or any amount greater than 30 times the minimum wage, whichever is less. However, different laws and limits apply when the money is going toward child support, spousal maintenance, student loans, and back taxes, so it is difficult to say how much a paycheck can really be garnished without knowing an individual’s specific life circumstances.

If a garnishment is causing serious financial hardship, like pushing the debtor into foreclosure, the debtor can petition the court to reduce the amount being garnished.

Bankruptcy Halts Most Garnishments

It is also possible to halt a garnishment by filing for bankruptcy. This is a drastic step to take in reaction to a garnishment, but sometimes it is necessary.

Anyone who is having a difficult time dealing with wage garnishments should consider making an appointment with a bankruptcy attorney to find out what options are available. An experienced bankruptcy attorney will be able to work with a debtor to see if it is possible to negotiate down or consolidate debts, reduce garnishments, or have debts wiped away via bankruptcy.

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