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Where do I file my bankruptcy case?
The bankruptcy court is a federal court. The District of Maine has two court locations where you may file, depending on the county in which you live.
How do I "file" a document with the court?
Effective January 1, 2004, all attorneys must file electronically. For non-electronic filers, bankruptcy petitions, pleadings and other papers may be submitted for filing by mail or in person at the Clerk's Office public counters.
Absent extraordinary circumstances, all documents must be submitted for filing by mail or at a Clerk's Office public counter during business hours. When extraordinary, compelling circumstances require delivery of a document to the Clerk's Office after hours, an emergency filing can be arranged by contacting the appropriate Clerk's Office during business hours. The Clerk's Office does not currently accept documents for filing by facsimile.
After completing your bankruptcy papers, mail or deliver them to the appropriate divisional Clerk's Office accompanied by the filing fee payment or a completed application to pay fees in installments.
If you want a file stamped copy of your petition, you must bring or mail a copy and the Clerk's Office will file stamp and return it to you. If your petition is mailed, you must include a self-addressed, stamped envelope of sufficient size to obtain your file stamped copy.
How much are the court fees to file a bankruptcy?
The Fees Page of this site states the current fees charged.
What if I can't pay the filing fee?
An individual chapter 7 debtor may file an application for waiver of the filing fee along with the bankruptcy petition. The application must conform substantially to Official Form 103B. The Court may waive the chapter 7 filing fee for an individual debtor who: (a) has income less than 150 percent of the poverty guidelines last published by the United States Department of Health and Human Services based on family size; and (b) is unable to pay that fee in installments. You will have to justify your request to waive the filing fee, and the Court will make a determination. If the Court denies the fee waiver application, you will be ordered to pay the fee in installments, and a schedule will be included in the order.
Must I pay all at once?
Installment payments may be approved under certain circumstances, and are governed by Fed R Bankr P 1006. They are limited to individual debtors. An application to pay in installments must be submitted to the Clerk's office for approval by the Court. Fees paid pursuant to an approved installment application must be paid in four equal installments.
What happens after I file bankruptcy?
Upon filing the original petition with the Clerk's Office, the "automatic stay" immediately takes effect and prohibits all creditors from taking any collection action against the debtor or the debtor's property. The Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 includes several limitations on the imposition of the automatic stay, especially for repeat filers, so you may want to check with an attorney before assuming that all your debts are stayed. Although the stay is automatic, creditors need to be advised of the stay. Using the creditor matrix provided by the debtor, the court issues a notice to all creditors advising them of the filing of the bankruptcy, the case number, the automatic stay, the name of the trustee assigned to the case (if filed under chapter 7, 12, or 13), the date set for the meeting of creditors (called the "341 meeting"), the deadline, if any, set for filing objections to the discharge of the debtor and/or the dischargeability of specific debts, and whether and where to file claims. The exact information in the notice differs depending on the chapter under which the case is filed.
In a chapter 7 case involving an individual debtor, the creditors generally have sixty (60) days from the first date set for the meeting of creditors to object to the discharge of the debtor and/or the dischargeability of a specific debt. If the deadline passes without any objections to the debtor's discharge being filed, the court will issue the discharge order. If any objections to the dischargeability of specific debts are filed, they will be heard by the court, but will not delay the granting of a discharge with respect to other debts. An objection to discharge or to the dischargeability of certain debts is considered a separate lawsuit (an adversary proceeding) within the bankruptcy and may result in a trial before the judge assigned to the case. Corporate and partnership chapter 7 debtors do not receive discharges. If there are no assets from which creditors can be paid, the trustee will prepare a report of no distribution and the case will be closed. If there are assets that are not exempt, funds will be available for distribution to creditors. The court will set claims deadlines and notify all creditors to file their claims. The trustee will proceed to collect the assets, liquidate them and distribute the proceeds to creditors. When the assets have been completely administered, the court will close the case.
In a chapter 13 case, creditors are given an opportunity to object to the plan. If no objection is filed by creditors or the trustee, the plan may be confirmed as filed. Once the plan is confirmed, the trustee will distribute the proceeds of the debtor's plan payments to creditors until the debtor completes the plan or the court dismisses or converts the case. Upon completion of the chapter 13 plan, the court will issue a discharge order, the trustee will prepare a final report, and the case will be closed.
In a chapter 12 case, the confirmation hearing must be concluded within forty-five (45) days of filing the plan. The court may consider dismissal of the case if a plan is not confirmed.
In a chapter 11 case, a debtor's conference is held with the United States trustee's staff before the creditors' meeting. At the debtor's conference, the united States Trustee will go over the responsibilities and restrictions on the debtor-in-possession, explain the quarterly fees and monthly operating reports, and generally discuss the financial situation of the debtor and the scope of the anticipated plan of reorganization. A disclosure statement must be filed with the plan and approved by the court before votes for and against the plan can be solicited. After the estate has been fully administered, the court enters a final decree closing the case. A chapter 11 estate may be considered fully administered and closed before the payments required by the plan have been completed.
What is a bankruptcy trustee? Who is the United States Trustee? What is the difference?
In all chapter 7, 12, 13 and in some chapter 11 cases, a case trustee is assigned. In chapter 7 cases they are called "Panel Trustees." In chapter 12 and 13 cases they are called "Standing Trustees." The trustee's job is to administer the bankruptcy estate, to make sure creditors get as much money as possible, and to run the first meeting of creditors, (also called the "341 meeting", because 11 U.S.C. § 341 of the Bankruptcy Code requires that the meeting be held). The trustee either collects and sells non-exempt estate property, as in the case of a chapter 7, or collects and pays out money on 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, after, or at the meeting. You must also bring positive identification and verification of your social security number to the meeting. You should always cooperate with the trustee, since failure to cooperate with the trustee could be grounds to have your discharge denied. Trustees are not necessarily lawyers, and they are not paid by the court. They are appointed by the United States Trustee. The trustees report to the court, but their fees come out of the bankruptcy filing fees or as a percentage of the money distributed to creditors in the bankruptcy.
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 a watchdog agency, charged with monitoring all bankruptcies, 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, and you can contact them if you are having a problem with a trustee, or if you have evidence of any fraudulent activity. In monitoring cases, the United States Trustee reviews all bankruptcy petitions and pleadings filed in cases, and participates in many proceedings affecting the case, but they do not administer the case themselves. They can bring motions in the bankruptcy, such as ones to dismiss the case, or to deny the debtor's discharge. The United States Trustee is the agency which certifies credit counseling and debt education providers.
What is the creditor's meeting? What can I expect will happen there?
A "meeting of creditors" is the single event that ALL debtors must attend in any bankruptcy proceeding. It is held outside the presence of the judge and usually occurs between twenty (20) and forty (40) days from the date the original petition is filed with the court. In chapter 7, chapter 12, and chapter 13 cases the trustee assigned by the court on behalf of the United States Trustee conducts the meeting. In chapter 11 cases where the debtor is in possession and no trustee is assigned a representative of the United States Trustee's office conducts the hearing.
The meeting permits the trustee or representative of the United States Trustee's Office to review the debtor's petition and schedules with the debtor face-to-face. The debtor is required to answer questions under penalty of perjury concerning the debtor's acts, conduct, property, liabilities, financial condition and any matter that may affect administration of the estate or the debtor's right to discharge. This information enables the trustee or representative of the United States trustee's Office to understand the debtor's circumstances and facilitates efficient administration of the case. Additionally, the trustee or representative of the united States Trustee's Office will ask questions to ensure that the debtor understand the positive and negative aspects of filing for bankruptcy.
The meeting is referred to as the "meeting of creditors" because creditors are notified that they may attend and question the debtor about the location and disposition of assets and any other matter relevant to the administration of the case. However, creditors are not required to attend these meetings and, in general, are not considered to have waived any of their rights by failing to appear. The meeting usually lasts only a few minutes and may be continued if the trustee or representative of the United States Trustee's Office is not satisfied with the information provided by the debtor. If the debtor fails to appear and provide the information requested at the meeting, the trustee or representative of the United states Trustee's Office may request that the bankruptcy case be dismissed or that the debtor be ordered by the court to cooperate or be held in contempt of court for willful failure to cooperate.
What is a discharge?
The discharge order is issued by the court and permanently prohibits creditors from taking action to collect dischargeable debts against the debtor personally; this does not prevent secured creditors from seizing collateral if payments are not kept up, or other creditors from pursuing property of the estate.
Some debts are not dischargeable, and others may be found to be non-dischargeable depending on particular circumstances.
In a chapter 7 case, the bankruptcy court will order that the debtor be discharged of all dischargeable debts once the time for filing complaints objecting to discharge has expired unless:
a. the debtor is not an individual;
b. a complaint objecting to the debtor's discharge has been filed; or
c. the debtor failed to complete an instructional course concerning personal financial management;
d. the debtor has a previous discharge within the past 8 years;
e. the debtor has filed a waiver of discharge.
In chapter 11 cases, if the debtor is an individual, a discharge must be granted by the Court after all payments are complete, or, at least, the amounts paid are not less than the amount that would have been paid under a chapter 7 liquidation; otherwise, the confirmation of a plan of reorganization discharges the debtor from dischargeable debts that arose before the date of the order of relief unless:
a. the plan or order confirming plan provides otherwise; or
b. the plan is a liquidating plan and the debtor would be denied a discharge in a chapter 7 case under 11 U.S.C. 727
In chapter 12 and chapter 13 cases, the court will order that the debtor is discharged of dischargeable debts after the debtor has completed all payments under the plan, or prior to plan completion, after notice and hearing, if the requirements of 11 U.S.C. §§ 1228(b) or 1328(b) have been met.
The granting of a discharge does not automatically result in the closing of a case. All contested matters, adversary proceedings, and appeals must be resolved and the appointed trustee or debtor-in-possession must file a final report and account and request entry of a final decree before the Clerk's Office will close the case.
Do I have to do anything else to receive my discharge?
The Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 includes several new bars to the granting of a discharge. For example, all individual debtors must complete an instructional course concerning personal financial managements, and submit a certification of completion. Chapter 13 debtors must certify that any domestic support obligations are current. In some circumstances, a case may be closed without the discharge being granted. If that happens, the debtor will have to pay a fee to reopen the case and file the missing documents to get the discharge.