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Penalties for not Paying Child Support: Garnishments

Each installment of child support under any child support order is, after the date it is due, a judgment by operation of law and as such may be enforced by garnishment. O.C.G.A. § 19-6-17(e)(1); Karsman v. Portman, 170 Ga.App. 194 (1984). Additionally, interest that has accumulated on past due child support amounts may be enforced by garnishment as well. O.C.G.A. § 7-4-12.1.

Garnishments typically seize a portion of a party's wages to satisfy a debt. 

Garnishments are court orders that direct money or property of a party, usually the earnings or wages of that party paid by an employer, to be seized to satisfy a debt owed. Normally, garnishments operate by attaching the earnings of the non-paying parent before that parent receives compensation from his or her employer. In Georgia, the maximum amount of a non-paying parent’s pay that may be garnished per month in satisfaction of a child support obligation is 50% of his disposable or net earnings. O.C.G.A. § 18-4-20(d), (e), (f). In addition to wages earned as a result of employment, a non-paying parent’s pension, retirement program or retirement account may be garnished as well. However, the proceeds of pension or retirement funds would only be subject to garnishment when paid or otherwise transferred to the non-paying parent. O.C.G.A. § 18-4-22.

Defending Against Garnishment

The parent facing the garnishment action may defend against it in three ways: 1) by disproving the existence of the judgment that the garnishment is based upon; 2) by disproving the amount claimed due; or 3) by making any other challenge that may bar the judgment. O.C.G.A. 18-4-65(a). The burden is on the parent seeking the garnishment in collection of past due child support to prove the amount that is in arrears. Thacker Construction Ca. v. Williams, 154 Ga.App. 670 (1980). That parent must provide some proof of the amount owing before that amount may be garnished from the obligated parent’s wages. If the parent seeking the garnishment admits that the parent owing the child support obligation is no longer in arrears, a garnishment will not be effected. Stoker v. Severin, 292 Ga.App. 870 (2008). Additionally, in a garnishment proceeding to collect past due child support, the parents may agree to compromise and settle the disputed claim amount and have their agreement made the judgment of the court. Cochran v. Poole, 246 Ga. 569 (1980). Similar to all of the other remedies for non-payment of child support, garnishments are normally only sought once the obligated parent has either refused to provide support or has fallen behind on his or her child support amount. However, under certain circumstances, garnishments for support or income deduction orders may be automatically applied to an order for child support. See our section on income deduction orders for more information.