For those struggling to pay their bills and dealing with the stress of debt collections and living paycheck to paycheck, bankruptcy can be life-changing. However, you risk obtaining the fresh start you deserve if you don't follow all the rules associated with a bankruptcy filing – including showing up for required hearings in the case. Going to your attorney's office to discuss your bankruptcy or file papers isn't stressful, but for many people the idea of going to the courthouse to face a hearing is scary. Here's a look at what to expect, what excuses are acceptable for missing a court date and what to do if you do miss one.
Bankruptcy court is not stressful
Most people have never been to a federal courthouse, and it looks large and imposing from the outside. Inside, there are strict security procedures to gain admittance. You typically can't bring in your cell phone or computer - only attorneys and court employees can bring in their devices. And most debtors have a negative picture of what happens in the courthouse. You may imagine yourself on a witness stand being grilled about why you couldn't pay your bills.
You may envision a jury box full of the creditors that you owe judging and condemning you. You may worry about the judge raking you over the coals, and the Trustee (who acts on behalf of your creditors) chastising you or making you feel bad about yourself. Most of us have watched far too many TV shows featuring blistering courtroom antics. In fact, most of the proceedings in any court are dry, functional and without any finger pointing or emotional outbursts – particularly in bankruptcy court.
You will usually have to answer a few yes or no questions. These will cover whether your bankruptcy attorney explained your bankruptcy chapter to you, whether you submitted your tax returns, wage statements and that you understand the proceedings. That's it – no Matlock moments. So don't let anxiety keep you away from a bankruptcy hearing. The people most stressed at a bankruptcy court are usually the court employees who are trying to get through a roster of cases.
When is it okay to miss a bankruptcy court hearing?
The worst case scenario that can result from skipping a bankruptcy hearing is that the judge will dismiss your case. This is not what you want to happen. You will have to re-file and pay the court costs again plus some extra money to your lawyer for having to go through the process of re-filing all your papers and setting up new hearings. So it's best not to miss your hearings even if you have to go in with a headache or sniffles.
The most important hearing in your case is your 341 Meeting of Creditors. If you miss this one, it's 99% likely that the Trustee assigned to your case will request a dismissal. Unless you are in the hospital, there's no reason to miss this all-important hearing. It goes fast – the meeting itself will usually take just 15 minutes or so and often no creditors will show up at all, so it's just a formality. There's no reason to avoid this meeting plus it's an absolute requirement.
The only reasons to ditch a court date is if you or your child are in the hospital, you get into a crash and total your car on the way there or some other similarly dire circumstance. Be sure to contact your bankruptcy attorney ASAP to let them know why you can't be there so they can proactively request to reschedule your hearing. The court doesn't like to have its time wasted, so you don't want to not call and leave everyone waiting and wondering.
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