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Liquidation Under the Bankruptcy Code
HOW CHAPTER 7 WORKS
A chapter 7 case begins with the debtor's filing a petition with the bankruptcy court.1 The petition should be filed with the bankruptcy court serving the area where the individual lives or where the business debtor has its principal place of business or principal assets. 28 U.S.C. § 1408. In addition to the petition, the debtor is also required to file with the court several schedules of assets and liabilities, a schedule of current income and expenditures, a statement of financial affairs, and a schedule of executory contracts and unexpired leases. Bankruptcy Rule 1007(b). A husband and wife may file a joint petition or individual petitions. 11 U.S.C. § 302(a). (Official Bankruptcy Forms can be purchased at a legal stationery store. They are not available from the court.)
In order to complete the Official Bankruptcy Forms which make up the petition and schedules, the debtor(s) will need to compile the following information:
1. A list of all creditors and the amount and nature of their claims;
2. The source, amount, and frequency of the debtor's income;
3. A list of all of the debtor's property; and
4. A detailed list of the debtor's month- ly living expenses, i.e., food, clothing, shelter, utilities, taxes, transportation, medicine, etc.
Currently, the courts are required to charge a $155 case filing fee, a $39 miscellaneous administrative fee, and a $15 trustee surcharge (a total of $209). The fees should be paid to the clerk of the court upon filing or may, with the court's permission, be paid by individual debtors in installments. 28 U.S.C. § 1930(a); Bankruptcy Rule 1006(b); Bankruptcy Court Miscellaneous Fee Schedule, Item 8. Rule 1006(b) limits to four the number of installments for the filing fee. The final installment shall be payable not later than 120 days after filing the petition. For cause shown, the court may extend the time of any installment, provided that the last installment is paid not later than 180 days after the filing of the petition. Bankruptcy Rule 1006(b). The $39 administrative fee and the $15 trustee surcharge may be paid in installments in the same manner as the filing fee. If a joint petition is filed, only one filing fee, one administrative fee, and one trustee surcharge are charged. Debtors should be aware that failure to pay these fees may result in dismissal of the case. 11 U.S.C. § 707(a).
The filing of a petition under chapter 7 "automatically stays" most actions against the debtor or the debtor's property. 11 U.S.C. § 362. This stay arises by operation of law and requires no judicial action. As long as the stay is in effect, creditors generally cannot initiate or continue any lawsuits, wage garnishments, or even telephone calls demanding payments. Creditors normally receive notice of the filing of the petition from the clerk.
One of the schedules that will be filed by the individual debtor is a schedule of "exempt" property. Federal bankruptcy law provides that an individual debtor2 can protect some property from the claims of creditors either because it is exempt under federal bankruptcy law or because it is exempt under the laws of the debtor's home state. 11 U.S.C. § 522(b). Many states have taken advantage of a provision in the bankruptcy law that permits each state to adopt its own exemption law in place of the federal exemptions. In other jurisdictions, the individual debtor has the option of choosing between a federal package of exemptions or exemptions available under state law. Thus, whether certain property is exempt and may be kept by the debtor is often a question of state law. Legal counsel should be consulted to determine the law of the state in which the debtor lives.
A "meeting of creditors" is usually held 20 to 40 days after the petition is filed. If the United States trustee or bankruptcy administrator3 designates a place for the meeting that is not regularly staffed by the United States trustee or bankruptcy administrator, the meeting may be held no more than 60 days after the order for relief. Bankruptcy Rule 2003(a). The debtor must attend this meeting, at which creditors may appear and ask questions regarding the debtor's financial affairs and property. 11 U.S.C. § 343. If a husband and wife have filed a joint petition, they both must attend the creditors' meeting. The trustee also will attend this meeting. It is important for the debtor to cooperate with the trustee and to provide any financial records or documents that the trustee requests. The trustee is required to examine the debtor orally at the meeting of creditors to ensure that the debtor is aware of the potential consequences of seeking a discharge in bankruptcy, including the effect on credit history, the ability to file a petition under a different chapter, the effect of receiving a discharge, and the effect of reaffirming a debt. In some courts, trustees may provide written information on these topics at or in advance of the meeting, to ensure that the debtor is aware of this information. In order to preserve their independent judgment, bankruptcy judges are prohibited from attending the meeting of creditors. 11 U.S.C. § 341(c).
In order to accord the debtor complete relief, the Bankruptcy Code allows the debtor to convert a chapter 7 case to either a chapter 11 reorganization case or a case under chapter 13,4 as long as the debtor meets the eligibility standards under the chapter to which the debtor seeks to convert, and the case has not previously been converted to chapter 7 from either chapter 11 or chapter 13. Thus, the debtor will not be permitted to convert the case repeatedly from one chapter to another. 11 U.S.C. § 706(a).
1. An involuntary chapter 7 case may be commenced under certain circum- stances by the filing of a petition by creditors holding claims against the debtor. 11 U.S.C. § 303.
2. Each debtor in a joint case (both husband and wife) can claim exemptions under the federal bankruptcy laws. 11 U.S.C. § 522(m).
3. United States trustees and bankruptcy administrators are responsible for establishing a panel of private trustees to serve as trustees in chapter 7 cases and for supervising the administration of cases and trustees in cases under chapters 7, 11, 12, and 13 of the Bankruptcy Code. Bankruptcy administrators serve in the judicial districts in the states of Alabama and North Carolina.
4. A fee of $645 is charged for converting, on request of the debtor, a case under chapter 7 to a case under chapter 11. There is no fee for converting from chapter 7 to chapter 13.