In Pasco County we see a fair number of alimony cases. A common question is, “Can alimony payments be garnished?” Not only can garnishment be used as a way to enforce domestic support payments such as child support, it can also be used to make a person to pay their alimony obligation by having the paying spouse’s (obligor) employer provide a check to the receiving spouse (obligee) directly. This way the obligor doesn’t have the option to not make payment- the funds never even reach their hands.
We can thank Florida Statute §61.12 for permitting the garnishment of income for the purpose of paying any domestic support obligation, be it alimony or child support. According to the Court in Gilbert v. Gilbert, 447 So.2d 299, this is true even if money received by the obligor comes from a spendthrift trust.
A method of avoiding garnishment previously utilized by those unwilling to pay their alimony obligation is by invoking the “Head of Household” defense to garnishment under Florida Statute §222.11. Prior to 1991, the Florida Supreme Court interpreted Florida Statute §61.12 to not apply to support obligations that had been reduced to money judgments. This meant that if a person, typically a Former Wife, had the Court enter a money judgment for the support she was owed and attempted to enforce it, all the Former Husband had to do was file a Claim of Exemption as Head of Household and his income, even his disposable income, was exempt from garnishment. To do this, the Former Husband did have to have at least one dependent for whom he provided more than 50% of that person’s living expenses. This could be a child or even his new Wife.
After a decade of Courts following the Supreme Court’s interpretation that the Head of Household exemption should protect non-paying Former Spouses with dependents from garnishment due to money judgments, the Florida Legislature stepped in and amended the language in §61.12 to include, “…orders and judgments of the court of this state for alimony…”
As a result, you may now garnish support for alimony even if the Former Spouse has new dependents which, honestly, is the most just and equitable result. This is true even if the Former Spouse’s sole source of income is from Social Security, though not if the income is Social Security Disability.
Here at the Law Offices of Audrey A. Jefferis, P.A., we have garnished many different forms of income from Former Spouses to enforce alimony obligations, including Social Security. If you have questions about how to garnish alimony payments, call us at (727) 845-6174 and schedule a consultation with a Board Certified Family Law Expert.