During my initial consultations with people facing financial problems, I get this question quite frequently. It’s usually accompanied by a rather anxious look on their face. Since going to court is a more or less normal thing for me, I have to remember that for my clients it is a source of worry and even dread. Although it cannot be ruled out entirely, the good news is that you are not likely to spend much time, if any, in your local bankruptcy courtroom after you file your case. In most cases, a thoroughly and properly prepared bankruptcy petition will make its way through the entire process without your ever having to come face to face with the local bankruptcy judge. Even in those instances where a hearing is scheduled in your case, a competent and experienced debt relief lawyer can often settle the matter over the telephone before the hearing is scheduled to occur. In such instances, the hearing is cancelled by being taken “off the docket” and you will not have to attend.
Going to Court During Bankruptcy
But what if you do end up having to attend a bankruptcy court hearing? What should you do? The first thing is, don’t panic! The fact that you have to attend a hearing does not automatically mean there is a major problem with your case. It usually means that some issue has arisen from the facts in your case which needs to be presented to the judge for a ruling. Many times, this situation is favorable to you. If this happens to you, your attorney will notify you in advance of the need for you to attend the hearing. He or she will spend time before the hearing getting you prepared for your participation in the hearing. He or she will explain what the hearing is about and how you should conduct yourself. Often, your participation involves only a little bit of testimony about your financial situation. Rarely are you ever “on the stand” for lengthy periods of time.
I practice primarily in the Southern District of Mississippi. One example of when my clients will need to attend a hearing in bankruptcy court is when that client filed a previous bankruptcy case that was dismissed within the past year. We’ve re-filed their case and that situation requires that we file a motion to make sure the new case fully protects them from their creditors. In these instances, a brief hearing is necessary if any creditor objects to our motion. If so, my client and I go to the hearing and I put my client on the witness stand for brief time to give testimony about the circumstances surrounding the previous case and to establish that the new case has a better chance of success. The whole hearing usually lasts no more than ten or fifteen minutes and almost always ends favorably for my client. Clients are often surprised at how smoothly it goes and they see that there was nothing to fear in the first place.
Meeting of Creditors
Sometimes my clients confuse the mandatory meeting of creditors with a hearing in bankruptcy court. The meeting of creditors is NOT the same as a hearing in the bankruptcy court. The bankruptcy judge does not attend the meeting of creditors. The meeting of creditors is just that – a meeting. The meeting of creditors is required by the bankruptcy law and is usually the only opportunity your creditors have to speak to you directly about your case. Your lawyer will attend the meeting with you and you must also be present. Usually, you are asked a brief series of simple questions about your case which you can easily answer. The meeting is usually very brief and is often the only thing you will ever personally attend in your case. In some instances, none of your creditors show up for the meeting.
Tips on Avoiding Court
Two really good tips I can share with you to avoid having to attend a hearing in bankruptcy court are as follows. First, hire a reputable and competent debt relief lawyer to handle your case for you. Don’t even think about filing a bankruptcy case on your own and without a competent lawyer on your side. That lawyer will have the right knowledge and experience necessary to minimize the chances of you having to attend a hearing in bankruptcy court. Also, I would caution you against hiring a general practice lawyer to file your case for you. Find an experienced and reputable lawyer to represent you. Second, make sure you fully disclose your entire financial situation to your lawyer before he or she files your case with the court. Don’t hide anything from your lawyer! Often, court hearings get scheduled due to incomplete, erroneous, or conflicting information in your petition. That’s not how you want your case to start out.
Please be aware that local practices can vary from place to place. So, the practices in your district may differ from those in my local district. However, the thing to remember is that attending a hearing in bankruptcy court need not be a source of anxiety or dread. When you are properly prepared for your participation in the hearing, it will usually go very smoothly.
Ed Woods is the Managing Attorney of several of the Bond & Botes Law Offices throughout Mississippi. He holds a Bachelor of Science from the University of Southern Mississippi, and a Juris Doctorate from Mississippi College School of Law. Ed puts his extensive knowledge of bankruptcy law to use defending consumers from debt collection lawsuits and more. Read his full bio here.