Wage garnishment is an ugly possibility if you fail to pay a debt and the creditor secures a judgement against you in court. Although the amount of the garnishment is limited by federal and state law, the garnishee -- your employer -- is legally obligated to divert the funds, and will continue to do so until the debt is paid, or a state-mandated limit on the garnishment period kicks in. If you change jobs, for whatever reason, the garnishment will remain valid while the garnishee changes. The only escape is payment in full, bankruptcy, or an appeal.
Understanding the Process
When a court issues a writ of garnishment, or a child support agency an income withholding order, a third party is given the authority to have money seized from your wages. State law governs the process, and will require you to furnish the name, address and phone of your employer to the court. Employers are barred by federal law for terminating you based on a single garnishment. If you lose your job, are laid off, or quit, however, the garnishment order survives.
The same law requiring you to give employer information also requires you to inform the court if you change jobs. Your new employer will receive the garnishment notice, and will have to deal with the accounting issues and payments to the court. Failing to inform the court of any and all employment can result in a contempt charge, another court hearing and possible fines and jail time. On the court's side, finding your new employer won't be too difficult, as there's a significant paper trail attached to anyone who draws wages and pays taxes.
Payment as an independent contractor will change the circumstances. In general, freelancers, commissioned sales agents and similar independent workers are not drawing wages that can be garnished. Only wage income is subject to garnishment, although even non-wage earnings, once you deposit them, can be seized through a levy on your bank accounts.
When You Change Jobs
There are options if you change jobs while a garnishment is in the works. State law will allow an appeal if the garnishment is causing undue hardship on your family or dependents. Such an appeal is more likely to succeed if you've going through a layoff, or have changed to a position that pays less. A bankruptcy filing, although a painful last resort, will result in an automatic stay of all collection actions, whether or not they process through the court system. Alternatively, you may persuade a creditor to accept payments on an installment plan. For the creditor, it's more productive than waiting for a garnishment to take effect, or an appeal to be decided. For a debtor it's less financially painful than losing a significant percentage of a regular paycheck.