Washington Child Support Garnishment Limits, Exemptions and Protections

A noncustodial parent's income in Washington is subject to more garnishment exemptions – and more restrictive garnishment limits – than many other states. Washington garnishment law allows for multiple deductions to be made before determining the amount of earnings available for wage garnishment. Further, Washington's garnishment limits are set 15% lower than those in most other states, as well as the limits required by the Consumer Credit Protection Act (CCPA). Washington also uses a different method of allocation of orders than many other states do. Allocation of support orders is done when the noncustodial parent does not have enough disposable earnings to make all payments.

Garnishment Limits and Exemptions

The provisions of the CCPA help define income that is subject to protections in Washington. After any deductions required by state or federal law are made for the employee's gross earnings, the earnings left are called "disposable earnings" and are subject to some protections. In addition to the legally required deductions approved by the CCPA (income tax, Social Security and Medicare taxes, and any mandatory deduction required for a state pension system for public employees, disability, or unemployment insurance), Washington law requires that the employer deduct industrial insurance and union dues before determining the employee's "disposable earnings." Furthermore, the maximum an employer can withhold from an employee's disposable earnings is 50%. This is less than what is required by many other states, as well as the CCPA.

Allocation and Priority

When an employer is served with more than one support order for the same employee, and there are not enough allowable disposable earnings to make all of the payments, Washington law requires that the employer use the "equal distribution method." This means that the employer should deduct equally for each family's support payment. The employer should contact the agency if there are not enough disposable earnings to withhold for medical premiums. The agency will generally reduce withholding amounts for arrears so that these premiums can be paid.

Occasionally, an employer will receive both a support order and another type of withholding order applicable to the same employee. The employer should, in general, prioritize the support order first, even if it was issued after the other order. There are, however, several exceptions to this rule. An order for child support has priority over a Chapter 13 bankruptcy order dated on or after October 17, 2005, and any state-issued order, except another child support order, which must be treated equally, as well as an order to withhold and deliver under Washington law.

Similarly, an order for spousal support has priority over a Chapter 13 bankruptcy order dated on or after October 17, 2005, and any state-issued order, except another spousal support order, which must be treated equally, and any order for child support. Another exception to the general rule is that an IRS-issued levy takes priority over all support orders. However, if there are not enough allowable disposable earnings to pay both, the employer should contact the IRS to see if they can accommodate the support order. If so, the employer must get the agreement in writing before contacting the issuing agency about the IRS levy.

Protection from Discrimination

If an employer discriminates against an employee, or a prospective employee, they are subject to a civil action in Washington by the employee or prospective employee. The employer may be held liable for double wages lost, and may be ordered to reinstate the employee in addition to paying any other damages suffered as a result of the discrimination, costs, and reasonable attorneys' fees. The state of Washington also imposes a civil penalty against a discriminating employer for up to $2,500 per violation.