How to file for bankruptcy — filing the case with the court

After assembling your paperwork and then meeting with an attorney comes the day that most debtors are most eager to see arrive — the actual filing of the case with the United States Bankruptcy Court.

The date of filing has a lot of significance for debtors, not the least of which is the start of an “automatic stay” coinciding with the case. True to its name, this is generated automatically with the start of the case without the need for any special intervention by judges, attorneys, or clerks, and serves as a general court order prohibiting creditors from making any more collection efforts on the debts at issue. The stay also stops most collection lawsuits from proceeding in the Massachusetts or New Hampshire court systems.

Since the early 2000’s the bankruptcy court system gone paperless, using an electronic filing system under the government acronym CM/ECF. This means that there are no actual papers filed anymore!

What your attorney sends to the court instead amounts to several computer files. The first is a coded summary of the case that is only readable by a computer system. Another is a simple listing of the names and addresses of your creditors, called the “matrix.” the court will use this file to notify the creditors of your case, which will inform them of the automatic stay and get them to stop calling you.

Typically the largest file sent to the court is the petition itself, along with all the required schedules and forms associated with it. This is filed in human readable form, specifically in Adobe Corp’s PDF format. This file may be easily printed out by a trustee or judge if they desire to. A typical Chapter 7 case will be at least 40 pages long in the PDF format, so you see why the court is so glad to be “paperless!”

In a chapter 13 case, the debtor’s plan for bailing themselves out is also filed in PDF format, either at the same time as the petition or shortly afterwards.

In our security conscious society, publicizing social security numbers is a sensitive issue. How it is handled is specific to where you live. In Massachusetts, the bankruptcy court receives an electronically-filed “Statement of Social Security Number” for each debtor, but uses its computer system to hide this filing from the general public. The United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of New Hampshire, however, requires attorneys to file their clients’ social security numbers on a form through the U. S. mail, and then the court clerk enters them privately. So it is not quite a completely paperless filing for New Hampshire debtors!

The same is true for “signing” your bankruptcy petition. Only one page actually gets signed with a pen anymore; In Massachusetts, this page is scanned and submitted as a PDF file; in New Hampshire the debtors must sign in ink the mail-in social security form mentioned above.


By Doug Beaton

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