Legal Question in Landlord & Tenant Law in Tennessee
In Tennessee, do you have to be notified that you owe a debt before your wages can be garnished? (Not necessarily notified of the garnishment, but that a court has ruled that a debt is actually owed.)
1 Answer from Attorneys
There must be a court order before wages can be garnished or attached in Tennessee. For a garnishment to be issued against salary, there must be a final judgment by a court that declares a judgment debtor owes money of some specified amount to the judgment creditor. The final judgment would come about after a lawsuit was filed, a copy of the suit was served upon or given to the defendant so as to allow the defendant an opportunity to appear and contest the claim, and then some sort of court hearing where the court would make the final decree.
Tennessee has a procedure known as a "judicial attachment" which is sometimes called an "ancillary attachment" that could be likened to a form of pretrial garnishment. In this situation there is no judgment, but an order has been issued by a court directing that a defendant's wages be attached and sent to the court by the employer. This sort of action arises after a lawsuit has been filed and the court has issued a copy of the lawsuit to be served or given to the defendant. However, the sheriff's deputy or private process server is unable to actually serve a copy of the court papers on the defendant with the deputy or process server returning the papers to the court with a notation that the defendant is "not to be found". When this occurs, the plaintiff can then ask the court to issue the judicial attachment upon the defendant's salary. As noted above, the judicial attachment is a court order that is then given to the employer directing the employer to send a portion of the defendant's salary to the court. The defendant can go to the court and then accept the court papers that will result in the attachment being released. Also, depending upon the local court's interpretation of Tennessee law (the law in Tennessee is somewhat unsettled on this point with each court seeming to have its own interpretation), the court may or may not then release to the defendant the portion of wages that have been paid into the court by the employer. However, once the defendant has gone to the court and accepted the court papers, the case will then proceed through the procedural steps to a final determination of the case, either a final decree in favor of the plaintiff or a final decree in favor of the defendant.