Florida’s Head of Household Exemption
So you have had a collection judgment entered against you—or any type of judgment where you are now obligated to pay money to someone else. However, the amount in the judgement is way more than what you can afford to pay. Do you have rights that would avoid the judgment holder or the court from seizing your property and everything you own to satisfy the judgment?
The answer is yes. Florida allows consumers who have a judgment entered against them to assert what is known as exemptions. Exemptions are simply things or money that cannot be taken (or garnished) by a creditor.
One common example in Florida is your homestead. If you own a home, and it is homesteaded, a creditor cannot seize your home and sell it from under you to collect their money (they can, however, put a lien on the home, which would have to be paid when and if you ever sell it).
Head of Household
One less commonly known exemption is called the head of household exemption. You qualify for head of household so long as you pay at least half of the living expenses in your home for dependents, which can include any relative that relies on you for support, not just minor children. You also must show that you make less than $750 per week, but even if you make more than that, the creditors could only collect on the amount that exceeds $750 per week (and even then, they could not garnish 100% of the amount that exceeds $750).
In cases where a husband and wife are jointly liable under a judgment, only one of them can assert the exemption.
If you are self employed, you may want to see an attorney to determine how to best set up payments or salary to yourself from your business in a way that allows you to assert head of household, as some courts have found the exemption inapplicable to self-employed consumers.
Federal law is also helpful as it prohibits the collection of more than 25% of a debtor’s disposable income. You do not have to meet the definition of head of household to qualify for this exemption. The 25% is in total, not per garnishments, for debtors who have multiple creditors seeking to garnish wages from them.
Asserting an Exemption & Waivers
It is up to you, as a consumer with a judgment against him or her, to assert your right to an exemption. When a creditor sends you a notice of a garnishment, you have 20 days to assert head of household, or other exemptions that may apply to you.
Be very careful when signing forms and documents, such as credit agreements, as some contain waivers of the head of household exemption. By law, any such waiver must be on a separate sheet of paper, clearly describing the garnishment and the rights being waived, and the waiver must be in at least 14 point font.
Contact Jacobs Legal to speak with one of our Miami consumer rights attorneys today if you have a wage garnishment or judgment entered against you.