Do I need an attorney to file Bankruptcy?

Federal law does not require you to have an attorney.  You are allowed to file pro se, that is, on your own without an attorney.  However, without the assistance of an attorney, it is extremely difficult to do so successfully.  Hiring a competent attorney is highly recommended.

Will I lose my house, car, and other personal property?

Not necessarily, each state has laws that determine which items or property are exempt from being taken away.  For example, many states exempt personal items such as furniture and clothing.  In addition, other kinds of property are exempt up to a limit.  These exemption limits mean that any equity that you have in the property above the limit is not exempt.  The Bankruptcy Court can take the property and sell it, pay off any creditors, give to you the exemption amount, and keep the rest for other creditors.

How long will a Bankruptcy show on my credit reports?

The Bankruptcy Court has no jurisdiction over credit reporting agencies.  The Fair Credit Reporting Act, 6 U.S.C. Section 605, is the law that controls credit reporting agencies.  The law states that credit reporting agencies may not report a bankruptcy case on a person`s credit report after ten years from the date the bankruptcy case is filed.  Other bad credit information is removed after seven years.  The larger credit reporting agencies belong to an organization called the Associated Credit Bureaus.  The policy of the Associated Credit Bureaus is to remove chapter 11 and chapter 13 cases from the credit report after seven years to encourage debtors to file under these chapters.

Does my divorce decree protect me if my ex-spouse has filed for Bankruptcy and he/she has listed me as a co-signer on a Schedule D?

If you are contractually bound with your ex¬spouse on a debt, the creditor can require the entire payment of that debt from your share of the community property even though the divorce decree assigns the debt to your ex¬spouse.  Depending on the terms of your divorce decree, you may be able to have certain support obligations under it determined to be non¬dischargeable by the bankruptcy court or in state court.  If you find out that your ex¬spouse has filed for bankruptcy, you should seek legal advice to find out your possible obligations.

What is the first step in filing for Bankruptcy?

After you have decided to file for bankruptcy, the first step is to file a petition with the Bankruptcy Court.  On the petition, all your of your debts and property must be listed as well as other schedules of assets and liabilities.

What documents do I need to give to the attorney to start a Bankruptcy?

     1) Last 2 years Tax Returns
     2) Last 90 days pay check stubs
     3) Latest mortgage statement & second if applicable
     4) Copies of all bills, lawsuits, judgments, notes
     5) Copies of latest statement on automobile
     6) Credit report

Will filing for bankruptcy stop collection efforts?

The answer will depend upon the type of creditor that is after you.  When filing for bankruptcy an "automatic stay" goes into effect.  The automatic stay protects you from most creditors taking action to collect the debts.  However, a creditor may remove this protection by requesting removal from the bankruptcy court.  In general, the automatic stay will protect you (sometimes temporarily) from foreclosures on your home or from being evicted.

How long does it take to get divorced?

This is really a two-part question.  Most states require a certain period of time to pass between the filing of the initial paperwork and the issuance of a Judgment of Dissolution (the “official” document signed by the judge stating that you are now divorced).  The period varies from six weeks to six months.  However, these time periods are assuming that you and your spouse completely agree on all issues including child support, spousal support and the divisions of assets and debts.  The fact that you are getting divorced usually indicates that you will not be agreeing on all of the issues.  So "How long does it take to get divorced?" really depends upon the time period required in your state and how long you decide to fight with your spouse over the issues mentioned above.

What factors are used to calculate child support payments?

Under the Child Support Enforcement Act of 1984, child support payments are based upon each parent's current income.  This includes a number of elements including: occupational wages, assets such as stocks and bonds, welfare benefits.  Other factors include the custodial parent's living expenses and the standard of living of the child before divorce, the specific needs of the child; i.e. health insurance, educational needs, and applicable day care expenses, and the non¬custodial parent's ability to pay. However, under such circumstances as incarceration, past¬due child support would continue to accumulate (overdue payments are called arrearages or arrears), and the non¬custodial parent would be responsible for paying past¬due payments when released, either immediately or in installments, as mandated by a court of law.

Can the amount of the payment change over time?

Child support payments can be modified over time for reasons such as an increase in either parent's earnings¬¬this can include additional income from remarriage, a decrease in income due to a job change, a change in custody¬¬in which the child support order may be reversed, a change in the amount of time the child spends with each parent, or the specific needs of a child or either parent change due to a medical disability, etc.

What is child support, and how is child support determined?

Child support is a periodic payment made to a custodial parent from a non¬custodial parent to help compensate a child's living expenses, i.e. food, clothes, etc., and any other related debts.  When one parent is awarded sole custody, as in the event of a divorce, the non¬custodial parent is required to fulfill his or her child support obligation by making set payments, whereas the custodial parent meets his or her support obligation through the custody itself.  When parents are awarded joint custody in a divorce, however, the support obligation is shared, and is based on a ratio of each parent's income, and the amount of time the child spends with each parent.

How does the Court decide who gets the children?

At the outset, it is important to understand that "custody" is usually divided into two separate categories – legal custody and physical custody.  Usually, both parents are granted joint legal custody; meaning that both parents have an equal say in making the day to day decisions related to their children’s health, safety and general welfare.  Physical custody simply refers to the allocation of time spent with each parent.  Over the years, many states have done away with the term "sole custody' and simply order that the parents have joint physical custody then determine the percentage of time that the child will spend with each parent.  This is usually done through the use of some type of parenting plan that is either agreed upon by the parents and submitted to the court or if the parties can not agree on this, then the court will listen to arguments from both parents and then make a decision.

In making any decision regarding how much time a child will spend with either parent, or which parent will have primary custody, the court will always make that determination based upon the "best interests" of the child standard.  In using the “best interests” standard, a court will look carefully at both parents in order to determine if there are any factors that make it better for the child to spend more time with one parent than the other.  For example, if the mother has an 80 hour per week job and the father works part-time, that would be an important factor.  In addition, any issues that either parent has related to a substance abuse problem, present or past criminal activity or any other type of unstable lifestyle will be carefully evaluated.

How long must child support be paid?

The duration of this responsibility depends upon state law.  All states require both parents to be financially responsible for their child during the child's minority, generally through the child`s high school years.  A few states have extended the time for financial responsibility beyond the minority of the child.  Child support can be terminated in the event of the death of the child, if the child goes on active duty in the armed forces, or if the child becomes emancipated or self-supporting.