Home > divorce, family law general, paternity/child custody > Garnishing Your Wages–How much can they REALLY take?

Garnishing Your Wages–How much can they REALLY take?

I learned another (not-fun) tidbit just this week.

As a little background, I represent a guy who has had the stuffing knocked out of him by his ex in so many ways that it would break your heart.  This new bit I learned while working on his case.  The Office of Recovery Services (ORS) is the state office in Utah that is tasked with collecting child support and alimony payments (called “support” payments, both of them.)  The ORS can be very useful, but they can also make the life of the obligor parent (the one who pays–to remember: “The Obligor is always Poor”)

The Obligor is Always Poor. That's this guy.

something of a hell on earth (but ONLY if he/she is a respectable honest person who doesn’t do all the little things that can be done to avoid paying child support and alimony.  Sucks, but there you are…)

One of the new ways I’ve discovered that ORS can destroy the average Obligor’s life is this:  through wage garnishment.  The ORS has the right to garnish the wages of anyone who owes on a support order–meaning, you got behind and now owe more than just this current month’s payment.  According to the Department of Labor, for child support/alimony payments owing, the obligor’s wages can be garnished up to 50% if that person is currently supporting a new wife/child(ren), or up to 60% if he/she has no such new/current obligations to family.  The Big, Happy (NOT) Law info is located here:  http://www.dol.gov/compliance/guide/garnish.htm.  (An aside:  So far as I can tell, the self-employed cannot be garnished…just a little sump’m sump’m that might be of use to some of you.  I’ll let you know if I learn otherwise.)

So the take-away is this:  If you are an honest person, who is not making it his/her life’s work to duck paying child support/alimony, who is employed and earns wages, DO NOT fall behind on support payments.  I don’t know about you, but I can’t afford to have half of my monthly income sucked away in lump chunks like that.  Your best bet is to keep the support amounts from being more than you can handle from the beginning.

Oh, and get a lawyer for your divorce/custody case…

Yea, yea, yea...tell me I'm being dramatic. Just wait until it's YOU bleeding money...


This is what it looks like in most people’s lives…A good one from Trace Adkins, from back in the day.  Keep on Tryin’.

  1. Jessica Aikhionbare
    August 7, 2012 at 11:21 am

    My boyfriend’s ex wife just started garnishing his wages for both of their children. However his daughter lives with him full time and his son lives with him during the week and see’s his mother on the weekends during the summer. Their divorce decree states that whomever the children live with has to pay child support. We both agree that child support should be paid. However how is his ex-wife able to garnish his wages for 2 children when only 1 lives with her full time during the school year? And his boy has been with him full time since June 1st with the ex-wife only seeing him a few weekend here and there.


    • August 7, 2012 at 11:26 am

      She has been able to garnish because (I’m assuming) the Order indicates that the children live with her. I’m also assuming that you are in Utah, and this is going through ORS. If that is the case, your boyfriend needs to contact them and let them know what the children’s current living situation is (providing documentation from the school the kids are enrolled in would help with this). ORS should tell him what they need to change the child support garnishment, at any rate.


  2. Jessica Aikhionbare
    August 7, 2012 at 11:36 am

    Yes we are in UT and I do believe she is going through ORS. Isn’t it illegal that his ex-wife is lying to ORS and taking money that she is not entitled to?


    • August 7, 2012 at 11:43 am

      It’s a violation of the court order that says that child support follows the child, so technically, yes, it’s illegal, but not criminal. The way you rectify situations where one parent isn’t following the decree is to file a Motion for Order to Show Cause in the same court that entered the decree. It’s a civil action, though, NOT criminal.


      • Jessica Aikhionbare
        August 7, 2012 at 11:53 am

        Thank you! Is this something that he needs to get an attorney for or can he file it himself? His ex-wife left him with the kids and not paying child support for almost 2 years. She has the son enrolled in school at her place for this coming school year and garnishes his wages for 2 children. I really wish it was criminal. Her lie to ORS (saying he was behind for 3 months) left his last paycheck so small that taking care of the kids that are currently in his custody has been difficult.


  3. August 7, 2012 at 1:32 pm

    I ALWAYS recommend hiring a lawyer, but I know that it’s not always financially possible for people to do that. You can do it yourself. The state of Utah has a self-help website, and the link to the informing regarding enforcing the divorce decree (Motion for Order to Show Cause) is here: http://www.utcourts.gov/howto/family/enforcement/.


    • Jessica Aikhionbare
      August 8, 2012 at 9:22 am

      Thank you! We are in Herriman do you work that far South?


  4. January 15, 2013 at 9:28 pm

    I keep hearing nasty things about ORS. I’ve never opened a case with them before, but after getting stiffed for 2 1/2 years (in an attempt to keep the peace because my ex-husband tends to get verbally abusive when I don’t let him do what he wants), I finally opened a case to collect. But tonight I heard from some lady who opened a case that ORS never collects and she is forced to make up the difference by working extra. My question is not for the well-meaning parent who may get behind … I’m wondering if I just got bad information. Honestly, I got a fraction of what was owed me every month from my ex, but when he finds out I went to ORS and pitches a massive fit, I’ll get nothing unless ORS *actually* collects.

    Is their reputation that bad? Have I demolished a working civil relationship (working, all except for the money) for an angry ex who won’t even be forced to pay? I’m extremely worried and don’t know who to believe.

    Also, my ex lives in CA and ORS has his current work info, but he may be moving to a different workplace. By the time he moves, if he does, he’ll have been contacted by ORS and will not volunteer his new work information. Will they still be able to find him?

    Thanks, and sorry for the long questions. I’ve been having a hard time finding info on this one that wasn’t tainted by angry ex wives with husbands in jail or couched in government lingo that seems to be inexplicable on purpose.


    • January 16, 2013 at 8:51 am

      This is a GREAT question. In fact, after reading through it and drafting the answer, the answer is as long as a blog post in and of itself, so I’m just going to answer it that way. Stay tuned….


      • January 16, 2013 at 9:14 am

        Thanks, Ms. Tanner. After reading through several of your blog posts last night, I kept thinking the same thing over an over: “Thank God I hired a lawyer.” It was expensive, but it has probably saved me endless trouble in the long run. I look forward to your perspective on my question.


  5. michael
    May 20, 2013 at 2:01 pm

    my ex wife has cancelled my child support case.signed a paper to take the lein off my credit and im guessing that also cancels the payment for the back payment history i owed. now this all happened a month ago, my checks are still being garnished and while the whole time my second jobs check was never touched but last friday i recieved my checks from both jobs and and they are still garnishing my wages and Even garnished my wages 100% from my second job Wich has Never happened leaving me completely broke. what do i do? isnt this illegal?


    • michael
      May 20, 2013 at 2:03 pm

      I’m in California. Any help Would be Much Appreciated…


      • May 20, 2013 at 3:02 pm

        If this is a Utah case, and you’re working through ORS in Utah (or even in CA, but I can’t comment on that really because I’m not licensed there), you’ll want to contact ORS directly. It’s possible that ORS hasn’t received an updated court order, and they’re just doing their thing until they do. Otherwise, your only real option is to take the ex back to court on an order to show cause for failing to abide by the new order (again, IF the new order has gone through the court system.)

        Those are your best options. I’m very sorry 😦


      • michael
        May 20, 2013 at 5:24 pm

        I’m. In california we didn’t. Settle it. Thru. The courts. Could that. Be. The case? We. Settled it directly. Thru the. Child. Support services office! Will I. Recive a check for that money. Or. Should. I. Just call. It a. Loss and. Move. On?


  6. Bill
    June 18, 2014 at 11:31 am

    I’ve been on both sides of ORS. I pay my child support and always have. It is my duty as their father. I hated ORS because I didn’t understand everything they did. I would find out about my kids’ mother trying to get child support raised through ORS. Since that notification came on an ORS letterhead, you can bet I hated them, their ineptness, their rush to judgment, and I resented their power. It’s extremely rare to speak to someone over there that knows what they are talking about and gives a damn about your case. And the custodial party can use ORS to effectively harrass the non-custodial party, even an upstanding one, but only to a very limited degree. They are very, very adeot at garnishing paychecks, true, but I’m afraid that from experience I can say firmly that that power they have is an absolute necessity.

    After remarrying and witnessing the deadbeat to top all deadbeats which is my wife’s ex husband, I have a greater understanding why this agency is necessary and in the end, extremely helpful to people that have nowhere else to turn. Are they bureaucratic, unfeeling, slow, inefficient? Yes on all counts. Do they try to get it right, and do they eventually get it right 99.9% of the time? The actually do. Do the positives outweigh the negatives? Absolutely. When a deadbeat doesn’t pay, it’s not like it is on the news where you hear about these guys (and ladies) going to jail in some “deadbeat roundup”. That is a fantasy. I am personal witness to a person who has repeatedly and willfully evaded all court orders, perjured himself during trial, went years without paying child support or medical costs, and never has been disciplined whatsoever after endless hearings and trials. The only accountability for this piece of trash was through a combination of revised court orders and the power of ORS to enforce the financial aspect of those court orders. As a father who takes responsibility for his children, and provides 100% financially and medically for his step children, I now sing the praises of this much-maligned agency from the highest rooftops. It ain’t the best, but it’s better than thousands upon thousands of single mothers and fathers having zero recourse to effectively bring many of these deadbeats to financially accountability for their reproductive endeavors. ORS is necessary and in the end, a good thing, and so is their power to garnish wages.


  7. May 13, 2015 at 8:01 pm

    First: She may be in Cali, but if the divorce is in Utah, child support will be based on Utah law, not California, because Utah retains jurisdiction over the case. Second: Child support in Utah is based strictly on incomes and number of kids you have in common. HOWEVER: You can get a credit for the kids you have had with your current spouse, which means a reduction in the income that you have that would be counted for child support. This is something you’d need to do in a modification proceeding, and honestly, I don’t know if ORS will do that on their own without a modification proceeding being done in court. As to getting a job that pays less: The theory is that if you are capable of making a certain amount of money, getting a lower paying job will be considered being voluntarily underemployed, and they’ll just consider what you COULD be making based on what you have in the past. You only pay child support on the kids you have in common. So if she has more, you’re not going to be required to pay for the extras–just yours.

    Finally: Her getting married will not change child support at all. Child support is based upon the parents’ incomes of the children that the Order includes. Even if she has a husband totally supporting her, you still don’t get a break on child support.

    I know it sucks. I’m sorry. But at least knowing what the rules are to the game you’re playing helps in terms of knowing how best to play the game. As if comparing your financial life to a game isn’t horrible enough :/ .


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