Necessities Of Life Exemptions

August 12, 2023


The 2014 version of CCP (California Code of Civil Procedure) 706.051, covers the earnings necessary for the support of a judgment debtor, or a judgment debtor’s family:

(a) For the purposes of this section, “family of the judgment debtor” includes the spouse or former spouse of the judgment debtor.

(b) Except as provided in subdivision (c), the portion of the judgment debtor’s earnings that the judgment debtor proves is necessary for the support of the judgment debtor or the judgment debtor’s family supported in whole or in part by the judgment debtor is exempt from levy under this chapter.

(c) The exemption provided in subdivision (b) is not available if any of the following exceptions applies:

(1) The debt was incurred pursuant to an order or award for the payment of attorney’s fees under Section 2030, 3121, or 3557 of the Family Code.

(2) The debt was incurred for personal services rendered by an employee or former employee of the judgment debtor.

(3) The order is a withholding order for support under Section 706.030.

(4) The order is one governed by Article 4 (commencing with Section 706.070) (state tax order).

It is my understanding that the legal phrase of “necessities of life”, no longer exists. It has been quaintly renamed as the “necessaries of life”. One of many judgment articles: I am not a lawyer, I am a judgment broker, and this article is my opinion based on my experience in California, please consult with a lawyer if you need legal advice.

The case law, J.J. MacIntyre Co. v. Duren (1981) 118 Cal.App.3d Supp. 16, specifically states that medical care or hospital services constitute a common necessary of life, for the purpose of determining whether the common necessaries of life exemption should apply. Attorneys have reported that when judgment creditors file a notice of opposition to a debtor’s claim of exemption in medical debt cases; they typically cite the common necessaries of life exception, and the J.J. MacIntyre decision; as the basis for which the claim of exemption should be denied by the court.

The California AB 1388 assembly bill seemed to permit, however not require the courts to grant a judgment debtor’s claim of exemption from wage garnishment in cases where the underlying debt was incurred for medical care or hospital services rendered to the judgment debtor, or their family. The full text is at: http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/pub/11-12/bill/asm/ab_1351-1400/ ab_1388_cfa_20110829_195817_asm_floor.html.

Besides the HIPPA laws, this is another reason most judgment enforcers avoid medical debt judgments. It is interesting that the necessaries of life exception seems to have been eliminated, however an attorney’s fees exemption seems to have been added at the same time. What is puzzling, is that it is difficult to find any Assembly or Senate bill that revised CCP 706.051 after its last revision in 2011. It is as if elves snuck in and magically changed it in the middle of the night. Usually, it requires the House, and then a Senate vote to make such changes.

You can see all of bill AB 1388s’ transformations, along with the elves who had their fingers in the pie, at: http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/postquery?bill_number=ab_1388 &sess=1112&house=A. The AB 1388 bill went through substantial morphing, especially considering that it started its life as an alternate energy bill.

What if your debtor says, “I claim an exemption so that I do not have to pay this judgment that was awarded, because I did not pay for rent on a former residence”? You could respond with everyone agrees that food, clothing, and shelter are necessaries of life for all people, so any further exemptions (past the 75% statutory exemption) are not available. That often works, however some judges will grant the debtor’s exemption anyway.

In my opinion, car payments are not a necessity of life. Sometimes a judgment debtor will claim $400 or $500 per month for a car payment, thus reducing the amount that is available to pay a judgment. You might respond by claiming that, no, such a car payment is not a necessary of life, even in these modern days. (See Ratzlaff v. Portillo, 14 Cal.App.3d 1013.)

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