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FAQs Before You File
Attorney - are debtors and creditors required to have one?
Business Debtor - A corporation, partnership, or unincorporated association may not file a bankruptcy petition or other court documents, or appear in court, without an attorney [see Local Rule 9010-1(B)(2)].
Individual Debtor or Creditor - An individual debtor or creditor is not required to have an attorney in order to file a bankruptcy petition, file other documents, or represent themselves at court hearings. This is true for a chapter 7, 11 or 13 bankruptcy case. However, it is difficult for an individual to be aware of and protect all rights without the assistance of a competent bankruptcy attorney. Please visit the following pages for more information: Don't Have a Lawyer and Bankruptcy Checklist.
Automatic Stay - what is it and does it protect a debtor from all creditors?
Automatic Stay - Immediately after a bankruptcy case is filed, an injunction (called the "automatic stay") is generally imposed against certain creditors who want to start or continue taking action against a debtor or the debtor's property. Bankruptcy Code Section 362 and Local Rule 4001-1 discuss the Automatic Stay. If an individual debtor in a chapter 7, 11 or 13 case has had one prior bankruptcy case open in the year prior to the new case being filed, the automatic stay ends thirty days after the new case is filed UNLESS a motion is filed to extend the stay and the court has a hearing BEFORE the thirty days expires. If an individual debtor has had two or more bankruptcy cases open in the year prior to the new case being filed, there is no automatic stay in effect when the new case is filed. The Debtor must file a motion and have a hearing before thirty days after the case is filed to ask the court to impose the automatic stay.
Protection for the Debtor - It is important to read relevant statutes from the Bankruptcy Code and/or to consult with a competent bankruptcy attorney about the Automatic Stay because in some situations it does not apply or there is only an automatic stay if the debtor obtains a court order which imposes the automatic stay. There are many different time frames and deadlines, and creditors (such as child support services) may still take action to collect from a debtor.
Creditors Obtaining Relief from the Automatic Stay - If a creditor properly files and serves a Motion for Relief from Automatic Stay, and a bankruptcy judge grants the motion, the automatic stay will either be removed or modified so that the creditor can resume collection efforts against the debtor. Only a bankruptcy judge can grant a motion for relief from the automatic stay.
Bankruptcy - where can I find general information about the bankruptcy process?
Filing bankruptcy is a serious decision and should not be taken without considering the long-term financial and legal consequences. There are various pages on our website that provide information on the bankruptcy process and some local procedures you must be aware of. A good place to start is by reviewing the Understanding Bankruptcy, Bankruptcy Basics Videos, Bankruptcy Checklist, and the Don't Have a Lawyer pages. However, this information is not legal advice. You can only receive that from a lawyer.
Credit Counseling and Photo Identification - what are the requirements?
a) YOU MUST COMPLETE A CREDIT COUNSELING COURSE BEFORE YOU FILE A PETITION WITH THE COURT. Read this important warning notice (Spanish) (Creole) about the consumer credit counseling course you must complete BEFORE you file your petition. For a list of approved providers of this consumer credit counseling course, you can go to the US Trustee web site. US Trustee List of Approved Credit Counselors.
b) If you are filing without an attorney, you must present photo id when filing your petition. See this notice for information about photo id requirement: PHOTO ID REQUIREMENT NOTICE.
Filing - what do I need to file a bankruptcy case?
Filing and Noticing - can pro se (self represented) parties file papers and receive notice of case activity electronically?
Currently, pro se debtors and bankruptcy petition preparers are ineligible to register to use CM/ECF, which is the court’s electronic case filing system to file documents and receive notices electronically. However, the court now offers debtors the opportunity to request receipt of court notices and orders via email, instead of U.S. mail, through a program called Debtor Electronic Bankruptcy Noticing (DeBN).
Creditors without counsel may become registered users of CM/ECF with limited creditor filing privileges permitting them to electronically file notices of appearance, change of address, requests for service of notices, proofs of claim, notices of transferred claims, withdrawal of claims, reaffirmation agreements, chapter 11 ballots and other papers as authorized by the court. A claimant or the claimant’s agent may file proofs of claims electronically via an online fillable proof of claim form [see Local Rule 5005-4(B)(3)], which does not require registration in CM/ECF [ee Local Rules 3001-1(A)(1)].
Legal Assistance - do I qualify for free or low cost legal assistance?
The bankruptcy court does not fund or provide attorneys for those who cannot afford counsel. Under Local Rule 9071-2, the court may, under certain circumstances, refer a pro se party to the pro bono committee of the Bankruptcy Bar Association of the South District of Florida for the purpose of obtaining pro bono representation in a trial of the adversary proceeding. You may also visit our Legal Assistance page which provides a list of free and low cost services you can review as well as the free Bankruptcy Clinics available to you.
Petition Preparer - what requirements do I need to meet when using a petition preparer to file for bankruptcy?
Petition preparers are barred by law from providing legal advice — they cannot explain or answer legal questions or assist in bankruptcy court. They cannot sign a document on the debtor’s behalf or receive payment from the debtor for court fees. Visit the Legal Assistance page for more information on low cost or free alternatives.
Bankruptcy Petition preparers are required to provide you with the Official Bankruptcy Form 119, Bankruptcy Petition Preparer’s Notice, Declaration and Signature. Additionally, petition preparers must sign all documents they prepare; print their name, address, and social security number on such documents; and furnish copies to the debtor.