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Multiple Garnishment

Where more than one garnishment is received on an employee's wages, it is necessary to determine which has priority and how to withhold. Rules for determining priority can be complicated. It is strongly recommended that you contact each lawyer and party involved, advise them of the situation, and keep them fully informed. An employer acting in good faith and asking for guidance is not likely to incur penalties. The following principles apply:

  1. A support income withholding order, whenever received, always takes precedence over a garnishment for an ordinary debt. Whenever there is a support order, it must be withheld first, and additional amounts withheld for ordinary debts only after the support order has been satisfied, if the maximum has not already been exceeded.

  2. Calculate the maximum amount which can be garnished for each paycheck. If there is more than one pending garnishment (including support orders), determine the maximum amount that can be garnished for each one. The garnishment summons with the highest maximum amount sets the limit for the amount of wages that can be garnished from any one paycheck regardless of how many garnishments are pending. If the employer is already withholding 25% or more of an employee's paycheck for any reason and another garnishment order is received for an ordinary debt, nothing else can be withheld. If one of the garnishments is a support order, up to 65% of the disposable earnings may be withheld for support, and nothing (over 25%) may be withheld for an ordinary debt.

  3. Where there are two or more garnishments for ordinary debts, the priority between them is determined by the order in which the writs of fieri facias are delivered to the sheriff. This date may be determined from the Garnishment Summons which provides both the date of issuance of the summons and, if different, the date of delivery of the writ of fieri facias to the sheriff.

  4. Examples of common problems:

    1. Assume an employer is withholding 25% for a garnishment on an ordinary debt. A support order is subsequently served on the employer. The support order has priority under Virginia law and must be honored first; stop withholding for the ordinary garnishment until the support order has been satisfied. Withholding for the ordinary debt is then resumed.

    2. Assume an employer is withholding 25% for a garnishment on an ordinary debt. The employer then receives a second garnishment for an ordinary debt. The employer must continue to honor the first garnishment - even after the return date - until it is paid in full, provided that the first judgment creditor renews the first garnishment without a lapse in a pay period.

    3. Assume an employer is withholding 25% for a garnishment on an ordinary debt. The employer receives notice of the commencement of a bankruptcy case involving the employee. The employer must stop withholding wages pursuant to the garnishment. The wages withheld prior to the bankruptcy should be submitted to the court that issued the garnishment summons, with notice to the employee, the employee's bankruptcy attorney, the bankruptcy trustee and the judgment creditor.

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