Do I have to go to court if I file bankruptcy?

It is easy to assume that bankruptcy is like any other court proceeding in that attendance at court is mandatory to obtain the relief that you are seeking. You may be among the many that are worried about going through an intimidating litigation process and opt to avoid filing bankruptcy as a result. However, in reality, almost all persons that file bankruptcy never see the inside of a courtroom.

The meeting of creditors

For almost all filers, there is only part of the bankruptcy process that even comes close to a courtroom proceeding. This is called the 341 meeting or meeting of creditors. During this meeting, the bankruptcy trustee (not a judge) and your creditors ask questions about your debts. Although this sounds stressful, your attorney is present to help your through the process. Additionally, most of your creditors do not bother showing up to the meeting, as it is not a productive use of their time.

If you filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the goal of the meeting is to determine whether you have nonexempt property that can be sold to pay off your debts. During the meeting, most of the questions will focus on the value of your property, your expenses each month and whether you accurately disclosed your income and assets in your petition.

If you filed Chapter 13, the meeting's aim is to make sure your creditors are treated equally under the repayment plan. As a result, most of the questions revolve around whether you have dependents, the sources and amounts of your income, your monthly expenses and other related questions. Once the meeting is over, the bankruptcy court conducts a confirmation hearing to determine whether the repayment plan you proposed should be approved. However, your attorney, not you, attends this hearing in most cases.

Exceptions to the rule

The 341 meeting is the closest that most bankruptcy filers get to a courtroom. However, the main exception to this rule is if your case involves an adversarial proceeding. In most cases, this occurs when a creditor accuses you of trying to defraud them. In these cases, it is necessary to go to court for it to determine the truth of these allegations.

You may also have to go to court if a creditor objects to an exemption you claimed or you are otherwise ordered to attend court. Fortunately for you, these circumstances occur rarely. Although a bankruptcy sometimes requires a court to rule on issues or motions, your attorney attends court on your behalf most of the time.

Speak with an attorney

Since court appearances are rarely needed, you should not let your fear of courtrooms prevent you from seeking relief from your debts in bankruptcy. An experienced bankruptcy attorney can walk you through the process and ensure that it goes smoothly as possible.