Skip to Content
Serving Iowa Families Statewide

Garnishment in Child Support Actions


Garnishment in Child Support Actions

When the assets of the absent parent are unknown and outside the jurisdiction of the court, a garnishment of the parent’s wages to collect past due child support obligations may be appropriate.

Collection of Arrearages

A garnishment is a statutory procedure that permits a creditor to obtain money or assets due to a debtor by a third party, often the employer of the debtor. When state law permits, a garnishment of an absent parent’s wages is one method of collecting past due child support payments. Before garnishment may be used to collect the arrearage owed by an absent parent, the amount of past due child support must be fixed by a court. Garnishments usually require a new writ for each time money is collected, and the amount collected depends on the amount in the hands of the third party at the time that party is served.

Limitation on Garnishments

Garnishments are subject to state and federal wage withholding laws. Federal law limits garnishment for delinquent child support to 60 percent of disposable earnings, where the absent parent is not obligated to support a second family and to 50 percent of disposable earnings where the absent parent has a second family to support. “Disposable earnings” are those earnings available to the parent after necessary withholding. Under federal law, ”garnishment” is defined as any court procedure through which the earnings of any individual are withheld for the payment of any debt. The federal statute preempts less restrictive state laws. As a result, the federal requirement will apply even in a state that does not incorporate these limitations into its wage withholding statute.

The federal limitation on garnishments applies to both public and private employees. The federal government has waived its claim of sovereign immunity in garnishment proceedings against federal employees, including both garnishment of wages and garnishment of federal pension benefits. However, the fact that the federal government has waived sovereign immunity does not create a statutory right of relief. The state court has discretion whether or not to grant the writ of garnishment.