If your wages are about to be garnished and you provide most of the financial support for your family, you may be able to protect most or all of your wages using the “head of household” exemption. Read on to find out what a head of household exemption is and whether you qualify to claim it.
(To learn how wage garnishment works, how to protect part of your wages using exemptions, and how to raise an objection to a wage garnishment, visit Nolo's Wage Garnishment topic area.)
A head of household (sometimes called “head of family”) exemption is a special form of protection that can shield all or most of your wages from attachment by creditors. Not every state has this exemption, but many do.
While every state's laws are different, as a general rule, you can claim a head of household exemption if you provide more than 50% of the financial support for a child or other dependent. The extent of wage protection varies from state to state.
Below are three examples of how some states formulate the head of household exemptions. The amount of your disposable earnings (meaning, income remaining after legally required deductions like taxes have been taken) are exempt as follows:
100%, fully exempt (such as in Florida)
up to 90% exempt, meaning that creditors can garnish no more than 10% of your disposable income (such as in Missouri), or
whatever amount is necessary for the care and support of your family.
Get step-by-step guidance on dealing with debts in Solve Your Money Troubles.
If you live in a state that provides a head of household exemption, that protection may not be automatic. That means you may have to take steps to claim the exemption before you can activate the wage protection. Each state's law varies on how you can use a head of household exemption. However, you often must do the following:
file a claim of exemption or head of household affidavit, usually within a short period of time after receiving notice of the wage garnishment, and
attend a hearing to explain why you believe you qualify for the head of household exemption.
If you receive a notice that your wages are about to be garnished, you should research the laws of your state to find out if you are entitled to the head of household exemption and, if you are, how to claim that protection. To learn how to find your state laws, visit Nolo's Legal Research Center.