Recently a reader, “Savannah,” wrote to ask whether her salary might be garnished as a result of a judgment against her husband:
My husband was recently served by our neighbor with a civil suit saying our animals damaged our fence. (I don’t agree) But he was found guilty and now has a judgement. he is self employed doesn’t own much of anything. Can our neighbor also garnish my wages or any assets I may own even though the serve was to him and never involved my name?
The short answer is it’s unlikely, but the longer answer is that she may be asking the wrong question.
Ira Rheingold, executive director of the National Association of Consumer Advocates, said that although it’s unlikely Savannah’s salary could be garnished, it’s not impossible. “My general answer would be no, but the specific answer might be more nuanced, based on (the language) of the judgment and the law of the state where the incident occurred,” he said in an email. “Also, jointly held assets (i.e., bank accounts, their home) probably could be attached.”
We also put the question to Michael Bovee, the president of the Consumer Recovery Network debt negotiation service and a contributor to Credit.com. He agreed that state laws generally determine whether a spouse’s wages could be garnished. He added that he’s encountering more couples who choose not to join their finances when they marry, and in cases like this one, that could be a good thing. “More couples are coming up with an arrangement of who pays for what and keeping everything separate,” he said. “It’s not always a bad idea.” (The exception would be community property states, where property acquired after the marriage is generally considered to be jointly owned regardless of how it is titled. The community property states are Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin.)
Bovee also cautioned that courts have been known to undo asset and property transfers when done to evade creditors.
So, for our reader, the answer is a frustrating “it depends.” How the agreement was written, where she lives and whether she and her husband have jointly owned property could determine whether her paycheck or property is at risk.
A judgment can take a big toll on your credit. You can see if you have a judgment against you by checking your free annual credit reports. If you’re worried about how your debts may be affecting your credit, you can check two of your credit scores for free and get a personalized action plan on Credit.com.
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