10 Common Bankruptcy Questions

What Happens in Bankruptcy Court?
Bill Bubbers (left) and Tony Christ of Loral Space and Communication stand in front of the U.S. Bankruptcy courthouse in New York City. © Najlah Feanny/Corbis

To declare bankruptcy, you need to file a petition with a federal bankruptcy court. Use this search form to find the bankruptcy court nearest you. Even though the bankruptcy process is overseen by a court, debtors are not on trial. It is not a crime to be in debt. It's not even a crime to default on your debts. The role of the court is to assess the facts of the debtor's financial situation and ensure that creditors receive fair compensation.

Do you need a lawyer to file for bankruptcy? Technically, no. It is possible to file all of the necessary paperwork and attend the required meetings without an attorney, but the bankruptcy court itself strongly advises hiring a bankruptcy attorney [source: U.S. Courts]. An attorney will ensure that all outstanding debts are listed and properly discharged, that you don't miss any important filing deadlines, and that you don't do anything that could constitute bankruptcy fraud.

In most bankruptcy cases, you will never see a judge. Your main contact at court is the trustee. The trustee will review all of your financial statements and preside over a meeting of creditors held at the bankruptcy court (more on that next). In a Chapter 7 case, the trustee identifies all nonexempt assets and sells them to raise money to pay back creditors. In a Chapter 13 case, the trustee collects all financial records and ensures that the repayment plan is fair to creditors. The trustee also receives the monthly payments once the plan is approved [source: Bulkat].

Do your creditors have any say during bankruptcy proceedings? Keep reading to find out.