When contemplating bankruptcy, several concerns may arise. The first is usually what happens to my credit and finances once I file for bankruptcy. But one concern may be about the court process itself. If you’ve never been to court, or possibly even more so if you have and had a bad experience, the idea of appearing before a judge can be intimidating. Years of “Perry Mason moments” on television and in the movies are enough to scare anyone.
If you have a bankruptcy attorney to represent you, however, your personal contact with the bankruptcy judge, or even having to appear in court, can be minimized.
In most Chapter 7 bankruptcy cases, the debtor never has to appear in court at all. In fact, you may never even have any personal contact with the bankruptcy judge unless a creditor raises an objection to your attempt to include them in the bankruptcy and discharge the debt they claim you owe. Instead, the Bankruptcy Trustee takes over your assets and distributes them to your creditors as required by law (excluding exemptions and certain creditors with priority privileges).
In Chapter 13, you may be required to appear at a “341 meeting” which is a gathering of your creditors, usually in the offices of the Bankruptcy Trustee as opposed to in a courtroom or a judge’s chambers. At this meeting, creditors have the right to directly question the debtor about his or her assets, property owned and other aspects of the financial picture.
There are many reasons to use an attorney when you file for bankruptcy. The bankruptcy laws are complex and contain words and terms that you’ve likely never heard before (such as a “341 meeting”). You may be able to read pages of information on how the bankruptcy proceeding works, but knowing the language and appearing before a judge or your creditors are two different thigs. Missing out on an important exemption such as the right to keep a vehicle or your interest in your home can be devastating and difficult to correct.