If someone owes you money, you may ask the court to levy, or freeze, the person's bank accounts and give you the money you're owed. First you must go to court and obtain a judgment, or court order, confirming that you are owed a debt by the person named in the lawsuit and confirming the amount. Once you have that judgment you become a judgment creditor, and you may freeze the debtor's bank account.
A different procedure is used to freeze an account for back child support. This process is handled by state child support enforcement agencies of the state where the child support order was issued. Freezing a bank account for past child support does not require the involvement of the court past the original support order.
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To Collect a Consumer Debt
Summons and Complaint, Response
The collections process begins when you file a summons and complaint with the court in the jurisdiction where the debtor lives. The summons tells the debtor you are suing to collect the money he owes you. The complaint explains the debt to the court and asks the court to order payment. Copies of the summons and complaint are served on the debtor in person by the sheriff or by a private process server. The debtor has a certain number of days to file an answer to the complaint. In Washington State, for example, it's 20 days.
If the debtor disputes the debt, you may have to prove at trial that he owes you the money. If he admits the debt, the court may impose a payment schedule. If the debtor does not respond to the complaint, the court will enter a default judgment in your favor saying the debtor does indeed owe you the money. It will also order the county sheriff to enforce the judgment. In California, this part of the order is called a Writ of Execution.
Levy, or Freezing, the Debtor's Bank Account
You as creditor must mail the debtor a notice of the judgment, and in some jurisdictions you must notify the debtor of your intent to freeze his accounts. In California, this notice is called a Notice of Levy. After the appropriate notices are mailed, you give a copy of your judgment to the county sheriff, who takes it to the debtor's bank. The bank immediately freezes the debtor's accounts up to the amount of the levy. There is a waiting period -- in California it's 10 days, while in New York it's 20 -- to give the debtor time to dispute the levy, which he might do if some or all funds in the accounts are exempt from levy by federal law. After the waiting period is up, the sheriff turns the funds over to you to pay off the debt.
To Collect Past-Due Child Support
Freezing bank accounts to collect past-due child support is easier than becoming a judgment creditor. States have their own child support enforcement programs that take care of freezing the accounts for you. Federal law requires that all child support orders contain an enforcement provision, which gives the state programs the authority to freeze accounts.
For example, in Florida, the Florida Department of Revenue, Child Support Enforcement Division, handles enforcement of child support orders issued within the state. If you are a Florida resident who is owed back child support, you may apply to the enforcement division for collections help and submit the application with all required supporting documentation:
- Financial affidavit
- Check stubs
- W-2 forms
- Federal income tax returns for the past three years
- Copy of your child support order
Once your information has been verified and if you are indeed owed past due child support, the Department of Revenue will issue a revenue order to freeze the debtor's bank account. The order is served on the bank by the process service division of the local Sheriff's office, and the bank immediately freezes the account.
Funds Exempt From Levy
Some types of funds are exempted by federal law from being frozen to satisfy consumer debt. They include social security disability and retirement, TANF state assistance, worker's compensation and veteran's benefits. It also includes a percentage of any regular wages that were earned in the 90 days just before the judgment was issued.
Many of these funds are not exempt from levy for back child support.
- SJ Consumer Law: Frozen Bank Accounts
- US Dept. of Health and Human Services: Collecting Support
- New York City Dept. of Consumer Affairs: Debt Collection: Money Judgments and Frozen Bank Accounts
- Florida Dept. of Revenue: Enforcemen of Child Support Orders
- Florida Dept. of Revenue: Child Support: Apply for Child Support Services
- Sacramento County Public Law Library: Claim of Exemption-Bank Levy
- Washington Law Help: How Do I Answer a Lawsuit for Debt Collection?
- MFY Legal Services: My Bank Account is Frozen. What Do I Do?