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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How do I get admitted to the Bankruptcy Court?
To practice in the Bankruptcy Court, a unit of the District Court, an attorney must be admitted to the District Court Bar, and that is the bar of this Court. An attorney who is a member in good standing of the bar of any United States Court or of the highest Court of any State, but who is not a member of the bar of this Court, may file papers in this Court only if such attorney joins of record a member in good standing of the bar of this Court. All papers submitted by non-members of the bar of this Court must be signed by such counsel and by a member of the bar of this Court joined in compliance with this Rule. Please see Local Bankruptcy Rule 2090-1. To be admitted to the bar of the District Court, please contact District Court Bar Admissions at 202-354-3110 or the District Court’s website for an application and requirements.
BANKRUPTCY LAW AND PROCEDURE
What is Bankruptcy?
Bankruptcy is a set of federal laws and rules that can help individuals and businesses who owe more debt than they can pay. In bankruptcy, the person, corporation or partnership that owes money is called the debtor. Bankruptcy permits the debtor to work out a plan to repay some or all of the debt, to liquidate assets, or to have some of the debt forgiven (“discharged”) in an effort to obtain a fresh start. The bankruptcy laws give the debtor protection and benefits not available outside of bankruptcy, such as requiring that creditors stop all collection efforts while the debtor is in bankruptcy, unless otherwise ordered by the Bankruptcy Court. In bankruptcy, a debtor must make full disclosure of all assets, liabilities and other financial information and must either (1) surrender non-exempt (protected) property for liquidation and distribution to creditors, or (2) formulate a plan providing creditors at least as much as they would receive if the assets were liquidated.
What is the Bankruptcy Code?
Enacted in 1978, and amended from time to time thereafter, the Bankruptcy Code is Title 11 of the United States Code. It provides help for businesses or persons in financial difficulty in the form of bankruptcy chapters. Chapter 7, 11 and 13 bankruptcies are the most commonly filed chapters. The Bankruptcy Code is available at legal libraries and can also be found on the Court’s website.
“Chapters” in Bankruptcy, what are the differences?
Chapter 7: Often called the “liquidation chapter”, Chapter 7 is used by individuals, partnerships, or corporations who have no hope for repairing their financial situation. In Chapter 7, the debtor’s estate is liquidated under the rules of the Bankruptcy Code. Liquidation is the process through which the debtor’s non-exempt property is sold for cash by a trustee and the cash is distributed to creditors.
Chapter 13: An individual with a regular income who is overcome by debts, but believes such debt can be repaid within a reasonable period of time, and whose debts do not exceed certain debt limits may file under Chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Code. Chapter 13 permits the debtor to file a plan in which the debtor agrees to pay a certain amount of future income to the Chapter 13 trustee for distribution to creditors. If the Court approves the plan, the debtor will be under the Court’s protection while repaying such debts.
Chapter 11: Often called the “reorganization chapter,” Chapter 11 allows corporations, partnerships and individuals to reorganize, without having to liquidate all assets. In filing a Chapter 11, the debtor presents a plan to creditors which, if accepted by the creditors and approved by the Court, will allow the debtor to reorganize personal, financial or business affairs and again become a financially productive individual or business.
Chapter 9: Chapter 9 is available only to municipalities, and is a form of reorganization, not liquidation.
Chapter 12: Chapter 12 is a reorganization bankruptcy and is similar to Chapter 13, but is available only to “Family Farmers” and “Family Fishermen.”
Chapter 15: Chapter 15 is a reorganization bankruptcy and deals specifically with cross-border insolvency; foreign companies with debts in the United States.
Who can file bankruptcy?
A bankruptcy case relates to a debtor who owes a debt or debts, and is commenced by the filing of a petition regarding the debtor:
- In general, an individual, partnership, corporation, or business trust is eligible to be a debtor in a bankruptcy case (subject to eligibility restrictions as to which chapter of the Bankruptcy Code can be utilized, as discussed in “Chapters” in Bankruptcy, what are the differences?).
- A decedent’s estate cannot file a bankruptcy case.
- Only one debtor may be the subject of a petition except that an individual and the individual’s spouse may file a joint petition.
- Corporations, partnerships, and business trusts cannot file a bankruptcy petition, and cannot litigate proceedings in the case if they are not represented by an attorney who is a member of the bar of the District Court.
Only an individual can proceed without an attorney. However, the bankruptcy process is extremely complex, and individuals are strongly encouraged to seek competent bankruptcy counsel.
If the debtor files the petition, it is called a voluntary case. If a creditor or creditors file the petition, it is called an involuntary case. In an involuntary bankruptcy, the debtor has an opportunity to respond to the petition and show why the debtor should not be in bankruptcy.
Is Identification Required to file a Bankruptcy Petition?
Upon the filing of a bankruptcy petition by a debtor not represented by an attorney, the clerk is authorized to request from an individual presenting the petition for filing a photo identification (preferably a driver’s license) of the individual filing the petition. Please see the Court’s website under Standing Order Regarding Clerk’s Office Operations.
Do I need an Attorney to File Bankruptcy? What if I cannot afford one?
While it is possible to file a bankruptcy case “pro se”, that is, without the assistance of an attorney, it is extremely difficult to do so successfully. Hiring a competent attorney is highly recommended. For information about referral programs, please see our website (under the "Parties Who Have No Attorney" section) or contact your local bar association.
What is Credit Counseling?
Credit counseling is the counseling an individual debtor must obtain before filing bankruptcy. The counseling must be obtained, within 180 days before the debtor files the petition, from a credit counselor authorized by the United States Trustee. It is required for all individual debtors with exceptions that rarely apply. When you complete your credit counseling from a credit counselor, the credit counselor will issue a certificate that must be filed with the Bankruptcy Court. If you are filing jointly with your spouse, both of you must complete credit counseling. The failure to timely file a properly issued credit counseling certificate will result in the dismissal of your bankruptcy case in almost all circumstances. The credit counselor may develop a proposed budget and repayment plan if it appears that you could afford such a plan (if one is prepared, it is to be filed along with the certificate).
Please see the Court’s website for a more detailed discussion and for the most recent information on approved credit counseling providers.
What is Financial Management?
Personal Financial Management Instruction is the instruction that you obtain after you file bankruptcy from an agency authorized by the United States Trustee. It is only required for Chapter 7 and 13 individual debtors. Once you complete the instruction you are to file Official Form 423 and if a certificate was provided, it should be attached. In Chapter 7 cases, the certificate of completion of a course in financial management must be filed within 45 days of the first scheduled 11 U.S.C. § 341 Meeting of Creditors. In Chapter 13 cases, the certificate of course completion is due prior to the completion of all plan payments so that a discharge may be obtained. The failure to timely file the certificate of course completion in either a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 case could result in your case being closed without the issuance of a discharge. If this happens, you will need to pay a filing fee to reopen the case to file the certificate so that a discharge may be obtained.
Please visit the Court’s website for the most recent information on approved personal financial management instructional course providers.
What is a Discharge?
A discharge is a release of a debtor from personal liability for certain dischargeable debts set forth in the Bankruptcy Code. (A discharge releases a debtor from personal liability for certain debts known as dischargeable debts and prevents the creditors owed those debts from taking any action against the debtor to collect the debts as a personal obligation, but does not discharge enforcement of a lien or other encumbrance on property of the debtor. The discharge also prohibits creditors from communicating with the debtor regarding the debt, including telephone calls, letters, and personal contact.)
What if a creditor tries to collect money after I get a discharge?
The best thing to do will depend upon the specific facts of your case. If you have questions, contact an attorney. Make sure the creditor is aware that you received a discharge by mailing a copy of the discharge order to the creditor.
In general, it is a violation of the discharge injunction if, after you have provided notice of the discharge, the creditor does not cease collection efforts or commences or continues to pursue legal proceedings against you. You will be well advised to seek representation by a qualified attorney (whose fees may be recoverable from the creditor if the creditor, with knowledge of the case, is indeed violating the discharge injunction).
Will all my creditors be notified of my discharge?
All creditors who were listed in your schedules and on your creditors' matrix or added to your schedules and creditors' matrix by amendment will receive notice of your discharge.
How soon after I get my discharge can I file for bankruptcy again?
The Court cannot grant a discharge to an individual Chapter 7 or 11 debtor if he or she has been granted a discharge in a Chapter 7 or 11 case in which the petition was filed within eight years of the date of filing the current petition.
The Court cannot grant a Chapter 13 debtor a discharge if the debtor received a prior discharge in a prior Chapter 7, 11 or 12 case filed four years before filing the current case or in a prior Chapter 13 case filed two years before filing the current case. It is strongly suggested that you seek legal advice from a competent bankruptcy attorney on this matter.
When is my case complete?
Your case is complete when the case has been closed and there is no separate order that is issued. You should expect that a case will be closed within a reasonable time after a discharge issues in no asset cases or when the trustee files the final distribution report in asset cases.
What is the means test?
The means test (Official Form 122A-2) is used in cases where the Chapter 7 individual debtor's(s') current monthly income exceeds the state's median family income. It is used to determine if a debtor has the ability to repay a minimum level of general unsecured debt after the payment of allowable monthly expenses. If the means test shows a debtor has such an ability to repay, there is a "presumption of abuse." In other words, if the debtor(s) receive(s) a Chapter 7 discharge, this would be an abuse of the bankruptcy process, because the debtor(s) may have the ability to repay debts outside of bankruptcy or through a Chapter 13 repayment plan over time. The analysis involves application of certain IRS guidelines for expenses in determining the ability to repay as well as a review of income from the previous six months to determine if the debtor(s) is/are above the median income for the state where they reside. The links to the IRS guidelines and median income information are found on the Court’s website.
What is an Automatic Stay?
An automatic stay is an injunction that automatically stops lawsuits, foreclosures, garnishments and all collection activity against the debtor the moment a bankruptcy petition is filed.
What can I do if a creditor keeps trying to collect money after I have filed a bankruptcy?
You should immediately contact your bankruptcy attorney, and ask him or her to take appropriate action on your behalf. If you do not have an attorney, you can write the creditor and provide them your case name and number or a copy of your petition and the notice of the commencement of the case. If you obtained a discharge already, also provide the creditor a copy of your discharge order. If the collection efforts continue, you may be entitled to take further legal action, and you will be well advised to seek representation by a qualified attorney (whose fees may be recoverable from the creditor if the creditor, with knowledge of the case, is indeed violating the automatic stay or the discharge injunction).
What are the consequences of filing for bankruptcy?
Depending on a debtor’s financial situation and reasons for filing, the consequences of filing for bankruptcy protection may outweigh the benefits. Those considering bankruptcy should be aware of the following:
Filing for bankruptcy generally is not free;
Not all debts are dischargeable. An example is that secured creditors retain some rights which may permit them to seize property, even after a discharge is granted. Spousal and child support obligations and most tax debts are not dischargeable.
Within 14 days of the filing of a bankruptcy petition, schedules of the debtor’s assets and liabilities must be filed. Failure to timely file the appropriate schedules will result in dismissal of the bankruptcy. Similarly, the debtor must appear for examination at a meeting of creditors, and failure to appear can result in a dismissal or an order compelling the debtor to appear.
If a case is not dismissed and a discharge is entered by the Court, the debtor is prohibited from being granted another discharge for a period of time. See “How Soon after I get my discharge can I file for bankruptcy again?”.
Fraudulent information or acts by the debtor are grounds for denial of a discharge and may be punishable as a criminal offense.
Credit Reports. How long does the bankruptcy stay on? How can I get an Error Corrected; and How Do I get the Bankruptcy Removed from my Credit Report?
The Bankruptcy Court has no jurisdiction over credit reporting agencies. The Fair Credit Reporting Act, 6 U.S.C. Section 605, is the law that controls credit reporting agencies. The law states that credit reporting agencies may not report a bankruptcy on a person’s credit report after ten years from the date the bankruptcy case is filed. Other bad credit information is remove after seven years. The larger credit reporting agencies belong to an organization called the Associated Credit Bureaus. The policy of the Associated Credit Bureaus is to remove Chapter 11 and Chapter 13 cases from the credit report after seven years to encourage debtors to file under these chapters.
You may contact the Federal Trade Commission, Bureau of Consumer Protection, Education Division, Washington, DC 20580. The telephone number is (202) 326-2222. That office can provide further information on reestablishing credit and addressing credit problems. For information on credit practices, please contact (202) 326- 3224.
What is a 341 meeting?
The meeting of creditors is a hearing all debtors must attend in any bankruptcy proceeding. It is held outside of the presence of the judge and usually occurs between 20 and 40 days after the filing of the petition. In Chapter 7, 12, and 13 cases, the trustee assigned to the case conducts the meeting. In a Chapter 11 case, a representative of the United States Trustee's Office conducts the meeting.
The meeting permits the trustee or the representative of the U.S. Trustee to review the debtor's petition and schedules face-to-face with the debtor. The debtor is required to answer questions under penalty of perjury (swearing or affirming to tell the truth) about the debtor's conduct, property, liabilities, financial condition, and any other matter that may affect the administration of the case or the debtor's right to discharge. In addition, the trustee or U.S. Trustee's representative will ask questions to ensure that the debtor understands the bankruptcy process.
The meeting is referred to as a "meeting of creditors" because creditors are notified that they may attend and ask the debtor questions pertaining to assets or any other matter pertinent to the administration of the case. It is also referred to as a "341 meeting" because it is mandated by Section 341 of the Bankruptcy Code. Creditors are not required to attend these meetings and do not waive any rights if they do not attend. The meeting usually lasts only about ten to fifteen minutes and may be continued if the trustee or U.S. Trustee's representative is not satisfied with the information presented. If a continuance (postponement) of a 341 meeting is sought by a debtor/debtors, the trustee assigned to the case must be contacted. A motion to continue the meeting of creditors should not be filed with the Court unless the trustee has refused a requested continuance.
If the debtor fails to appear and provide the information requested, the trustee or U.S. Trustee's representative may request that the case be dismissed, or may seek other relief against the debtor for failure to cooperate. If the case involves spouses filing jointly, both spouses must appear at the meeting of creditors.
What is an Adversary Proceeding?
An Adversary Proceeding is a lawsuit arising in or related to a bankruptcy case, filed by a party called a “plaintiff” against a party called a “defendant”. Adversary proceedings are initiated by filing a document called a “complaint” with the Court to resolve both federal and state law issues. Certain types of disputes cannot be handled by motion in the bankruptcy case, but instead require the commencement of an adversary proceeding. Federal Bankruptcy Rule 7001 lists certain types of actions that require an adversary proceeding. Adversary proceedings are governed for the most part by Part VII of the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure. These rules incorporate most of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and are designed to make practice before the bankruptcy and district courts as similar as possible.
Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure, how can I get a copy?
A copy of the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedures (Bankruptcy Rules) is available for review on the Court's website, in the Clerk’s Office, and at most legal libraries. Bankruptcy Rules are not available for purchase from the Court. A copy of the Local Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure is available in the Clerk’s Office and also on the Court’s web site.
What if I do not agree with an Order that has been Signed in a Case?
A Notice of Appeal (see Miscellaneous Forms) generally must be filed no later than 14 days after an Order or Judgment has been entered in a case. In a Notice of Appeal, the party filing the appeal, the appellant, wishes to reverse the Order or Judgment granted in favor of the other party, the appellee. When a Notice of Appeal is filed, the matter is referred to the United States District Court or possibly on direct appeal to the Court of Appeals. The filing fee for a Notice of Appeal is $298.00 and the Notice of Appeal is filed with the United States Bankruptcy Court. For more information on appeals, see 28 U.S.C. §158(a) and (d)(2), part VIII of the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure, and District Court Local Bankruptcy Rules 8003-1 through 8009-1. See also Fed. R. Bankr. P. 7054 (and 9014(c)) governing when an order becomes a final order appealable of right (versus an interlocutory order appealable only with leave of the appellate court). As an alternative to an immediate appeal, you may file a motion under Fed. R. Bankr. P. 9023 within 14 days after entry of the order or judgment asking the Bankruptcy Court to vacate or alter its order or judgment and take an appeal if that motion is denied.
PARTIES TO A BANKRUPTCY CASE
What is a Bankruptcy Trustee? Who is the U.S. Trustee? What is the difference?
Trustee. In all Chapter 7, 12, and 13 cases, and in some Chapter 11 cases, a trustee is assigned (and serves as such except in the rare event of a different person being elected trustee by creditors in a chapter 7 or chapter 11 case). In Chapter 7 cases, a trustee is assigned randomly from a panel of five trustees.
In Chapter 12 and Chapter 13, the trustee is always the same, and is called the “standing trustee.” That means that your Chapter 12 trustee will likely always be the same person, and your Chapter 13 trustee will always be the same person. The trustee’s job is to administer the bankruptcy case, or the bankruptcy estate, to make sure creditors are treated as contemplated by the Bankruptcy Code, and to preside over the meeting of creditors. The trustee either collects and sells non-exempt property, as in the case of a Chapter 7, or collects and pays out money from a repayment plan, as in the case of a Chapter 12 or Chapter 13. The trustee can require that you provide, under penalty of perjury, information and documents, either before, during, or after the meeting of creditors. Failure to cooperate with the trustee could be grounds to have your discharge denied. Trustees are generally, but not always, lawyers. They are appointed by the United States Trustee. Their fees come out of the bankruptcy filing fees or of the money collected in a bankruptcy case.
Trustees are not your attorney, they do not represent you, they work on behalf of the bankruptcy estate and all of its creditors.
United States Trustee. The United States Trustee’s Office is part of the U.S. Department of Justice, and is separate from the court. The United States Trustee’s Office is responsible for monitoring bankruptcy cases, appointing and supervising all trustees, and identifying fraud in bankruptcy cases. The United States Trustee’s Office cannot give you legal advice, but they can give you information about the status of a case. If you are having problems with a trustee, or have evidence of fraud in a case, you can contact them. The United States Trustee’s Office reviews all bankruptcy petitions and pleadings filed in cases, and participates in many proceedings, but they do not administer specific cases. The trustees whom they appoint administer the cases. They can file motions in the bankruptcy case, such as a motion to dismiss the case or convert it to another Chapter.
The individuals appointed by the U.S. Trustee to serve as panel or standing trustees in individual bankruptcy cases changes over time. A current list of trustees may be obtained on the Court’s website at http://www.dcb.uscourts.gov.
Is the Bankruptcy Court state or federal?
The U.S. Bankruptcy Court is part of the federal judiciary. Each of the 94 federal judicial districts handles bankruptcy matters, and in almost all districts, bankruptcy cases are filed in the bankruptcy court. Bankruptcy cases cannot be filed in state court.
COMMUNICATING WITH THE COURT
Bankruptcy Judges, May I speak Directly with Them?
No. Federal law prohibits any “ex parte” contact with the Court in order to preserve the integrity of the Court and to prevent the appearance of any impropriety or allegations of preferential treatment for any party.
Do you accept faxed filings or transmit faxed copies?
No. The Clerk’s Office does not accept filings that are faxed or sent via email.
How do I obtain information (such as a debtor’s name, attorney, case number & status) on a case?
There are several ways to obtain case information.
• Multi-Court Voice Case Information System (McVCIS)
McVCIS is a free service that allows callers to access case information 24 hours a day, seven days a week, from any touch tone telephone. McVCIS can be accessed by calling 866-222-8029. Just follow the voice instructions provided.
• Internet Access
Electronic case information and documents may be retrieved using a computer on the internet, via the Public Access to Court Electronic Records webs site (PACER). For registration information, please call the PACER Service Center at (800) 676-6856 or go to their website at http://pacer.uscourts.gov. Registered agencies or individuals can access the PACER system for the District of Columbia at http://www.dcb.uscourts.gov.
• In Person
Public access computers are available for use, at no charge, in the Clerk’s Office. Bankruptcy documents may be viewed in person or retrieved for printing or copying. There is a per page fee for printing and copy services.
FORMS AND PLEADINGS
What is a Motion?
A Motion is a written formal statement in which the party who is requesting an action, the movant, sets forth his grounds for the action requested. The party against whom the action requested is the respondent.
What is a certificate of service?
When you file a motion or pleading with the Court, you must file a written statement that you have mailed or delivered a copy of the motion to all interested parties. This is called a certificate of service. You must list the name and address of each person and attorney being served with the motion and the name of the party each attorney represents, and you, your attorney, or an employee of your attorney must sign the certificate. It is very important to file a certificate of service with your pleadings. The Court may deny your relief if you do not file a certificate of service. Because the service of a pleading is critical to obtain the relief that you request, you are strongly urged to consult a bankruptcy attorney.
Copies of Documents. Certified copies.
Copies of Files. Copies may be obtained in the Clerk’s Office in the following ways:
- You may print the document from the court’s public access terminal for a fee of $.10 per page after the first 10 pages.
- You can request that the deputy clerk at the intake counter print the copies for you for a fee of $.50 per page.
The Clerk’s Office will photocopy up to ten pages a day at a cost of $.50 per page. Requests that are voluminous (i.e. exceeding ten pages) will require a copy request form. The copy request form is available at the intake counter. The copy request is processed usually within 24-48 hours (or possibly longer), depending on the request.
Records Search. There is a $30 fee applied when the request for information requires an examination of case files to retrieve the information, or when the request fails to identify the documents by an accurate case and docket number. (Bankruptcy Fee Compendium III, 11/21/12, p. 80
Certified Copies of Papers. There is a fee of $11.00 for certification of each document, plus the cost of $.50 per page.
Copies By Mail. A request for photocopies of documents in case files may be made in writing by mail. These requests require a $30 search fee for the deputy clerk to locate the documents and an additional photocopying fee of $.50 per page. To ensure timely processing of your request, please include the debtor's name, the case number, a list of documents to be copied, and a money order or attorney's business check payable to "Clerk, U.S. Bankruptcy Court" for $30. Please do not send cash or personal checks. A self-addressed stamped envelope should also be provided for the return of the photo copies. The deputy clerk will search the case file for the document(s) and contact you for the additional photocopying charge of $.50 per page.
How do I obtain a copy of a transcript from a Court hearing?
Official transcripts of a Court hearing may be obtained from Bowles Reporting Services. You may contact Steven Bowles through email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include in the email the Case Name, Case Number, Date of Hearing, and the time of the hearing. Once this information is received by Mr. Bowles, he will in turn contact the Court for the CD from the hearing. You may also request a transcript by mailing a letter with the previous information to: Steven Bowles, Bowles Reporting Services 225 Route 12, Suite 1, Groton, CT 06340, Phone: 860-464-1083. The court’s transcription service changes from time to time; contact the Clerk’s office if the foregoing information is no longer valid.
How Do I Obtain Hearing Information?
The Court’s calendar is posted weekly on the website. If you need to obtain a Motion to Lift Stay Hearing Date, those are available on the Court’s website under Hearings/Calendar. If you require a hearing date other than for a Motion to Lift Stay, please contact Aimee Mathewes, Courtroom Deputy, to the Honorable S. Martin Teel, Jr. at 202-354-3178.
Archives - What if a case I am interested in has been sent to Archives?
For information regarding cases that have been archived and are therefore not available at the Clerk's Office, you will need to obtain records from the Washington National Records Center. Bankruptcy cases are typically archived two years after a case is closed. It will be necessary for you to contact the Clerk's Office prior to the completion of the form to obtain an Accession Number, Location Number and a Box Number for a case which has been archived. Photocopies of archived files can also be obtained by FAX or by mail from the Washington National Records Center. Detailed information and the form for obtaining archived records is available by accessing the Washington National Records Center.
If I file for bankruptcy, will it stop an eviction?
Sections 362(b)(22), 362(b)(23), 362(l), and 362(m) of the Bankruptcy Code are some of the provisions that bear on the question of whether the automatic stay will apply to stop an eviction. However, the question is a complicated legal question, and the Clerk’s Office is prohibited by federal statute from providing legal advice. If you have any questions on how a bankruptcy filing affects enforcement of an eviction proceeding, please contact an attorney. Under § 362(l)(5)(A) of the Bankruptcy Code (11 U.S.C) a debtor is required to disclose on the petition the existence of any judgment obtained by the debtor’s lessor for possession of residential property in which the debtor resides as a tenant under a lease or rental agreement. Accordingly, even if you do not want to stay in your residence, you are required to complete Form 101A Initial Statement About an Eviction Judgment Against You and attach it to your petition as part of the petition. You should disregard the instruction on Form 101, line 11, to complete Form 101A only if you want to stay in your residence. Whether you want to stay there or not, you are required to complete Form 101A.