To request bankruptcy protection from a court, decide whether to hire a lawyer or file your own case. If you do not hire a lawyer, your next step is legal research because bankruptcy laws vary in each jurisdiction. Additionally, there are several types of bankruptcies, so you must determine which type to request. You might also have to obtain consumer counseling before a requesting bankruptcy protection if required by your jurisdiction. Once all the preliminaries are out of the way, acquire the correct forms and file them with the bankruptcy court.
It is usually best to hire a lawyer to help you request bankruptcy protection. Bankruptcy laws and rules are complex, technical, and difficult to understand. This might cause you to make a mistake such as failing to identify all debts on the proper documents, which could result in the court denying you the right to eliminate those debts. A bankruptcy lawyer likely knows the law and he or she is more able to handle unusual circumstances that may arise. If you cannot afford a lawyer, consider contacting a legal aid clinic because you may qualify for free legal help.
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If you choose to file your own case, your next step to bankruptcy protection is legal research. In the U.S., you need to research the U.S. Bankruptcy Code, the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure, local court rules, and case law. The Code contains laws governing each type of bankruptcy. The Federal Rules and the local court rules contain the exact steps you must follow to request bankruptcy protection. You may also need to research case law to learn how courts have interpreted the laws and rules as they may apply to your unique circumstances.
Before you file for bankruptcy protection, the law may require you to undergo consumer credit counseling through an agency approved by the government. Find out which counseling agencies the government approves through the bankruptcy court. The court can waive this requirement depending on the circumstances of each case. After you complete the counseling, the law generally requires you to file a statement of compliance and a certificate of credit counseling or equivalent documentation.
Your research should help you decide what type of bankruptcy you may request. In the U.S., the most common types are a Chapter 7 or 13. A Chapter 7 filing eliminates most debts, which means that you are no longer obligated to pay them; you must meet certain eligibility requirements to qualify for a Chapter 7, however. If do not qualify, you may seek bankruptcy protection through Chapter 13 in which the court reorganizes your debts and you make scheduled payments for a specified number of years.
After you determine which type of bankruptcy protection for which you qualify, you must use the official bankruptcy forms available through the court or a law library. Fill out the forms, file them with the court, and pay a filing fee. You can request the court to waive the filing fee, but you must meet certain conditions. Court rules may require multiple sets of documents so make sure you have enough copies. Finally, send copies of the documents that you file to all creditors to whom you owe money because court rules require such notification.