There is nothing in state or federal law that prohibits a California resident from filing for bankruptcy without an attorney, which is called “filing pro se” (“for oneself”). However, declaring bankruptcy without a lawyer exposes the debtor to grave legal and financial perils, particularly if the petitioner intends to file for Chapter 13 or Chapter 11, which are among the most technically complex forms of bankruptcy. Our Sacramento bankruptcy attorneys discuss eight reasons to avoid filing bankruptcy without a lawyer in California, and explain why legal representation is beneficial for debtors in a Chapter 7, Chapter 11, or Chapter 13 case.
Can You File Bankruptcy Without a Lawyer in CA?
The short answer to this question is yes. Legally speaking, any adult resident of California may file for bankruptcy without an attorney. However, there are numerous reasons to avoid filing bankruptcy pro se – today more than ever before.
While filing for bankruptcy has always been a complex procedure in the United States, the process became substantially more convoluted in 2005. In April of that year, Congress passed comprehensive bankruptcy reform legislation called the “Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act,” or BAPCPA.
While this piece of legislation had good intentions, having been enacted primarily to reduce the abuse of bankruptcy regulations pertaining to Chapter 7 eligibility, it also had the effect of complicating bankruptcy regulations to the point where the average person is now effectively rendered unable to file pro se successfully, particularly if he or she is filing under Chapter 13 or Chapter 11, both of which require the debtor to propose – and gain court approval to proceed with – a long-term debt reorganization plan. Continue reading to learn some of the reasons we urge California residents – and, for that matter, all U.S. debtors – to seek legal assistance from a qualified Chapter 7, Chapter 13, or Chapter 11 bankruptcy attorney.
8 Reasons to Hire an Attorney for Your Bankruptcy Case
Though it is not necessarily impossible to obtain a bankruptcy discharge after filing pro se, it is very difficult. But don’t simply take our word for it – listen to what the website of the United States Courts has to say on the matter:
[S]eeking the advice of a qualified attorney is strongly recommended because bankruptcy has long-term financial and legal outcomes. Filing personal bankruptcy under Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 takes careful preparation and understanding of legal issues. Misunderstandings of the law or making mistakes in the process can affect your rights. Court employees and bankruptcy judges are prohibited by law from offering legal advice.
As these warnings go on to point out, “Pro se litigants are expected to follow the rules and procedures in federal courts and should be familiar with the United States Bankruptcy Code, the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure, and the local rules of the court in which the case is filed.” Unfortunately, this is no simple task.
Not only are bankruptcy regulations vast in scope, they are also written using legal terminology that is unfamiliar to most debtors and often poses a barrier to clearly understanding the process — something vital to success in a bankruptcy case. That does not even begin to touch on the many local rules, court procedures, and deadlines which are applicable to a given case.
In a worst-case scenario, the petition will suffer from errors or omissions that ultimately lead to dismissal of the case by the bankruptcy court, which for Placer and Sacramento County residents, is U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of California. Even in a scenario where there are no critical errors, the debtor is likely to miss or be unaware of small but impactful details that can result in higher monthly payments, greater loss of property or assets, or inability to discharge certain debts.
How, for instance, do you know whether you are better off using System 1 or System 2 of California’s bankruptcy exemptions? How do you know whether it is more advantageous to file immediately or delay filing? How do you decide which chapter of bankruptcy you should file under? And what is your plan if an unforeseen obstacle develops, such as a creditor objecting to your Chapter 13 plan, or failing to file a proof of claim?
With a skilled and experienced Chapter 7, Chapter 11, or Chapter 13 bankruptcy attorney by your side, you will not have to worry about handling any of these problems or challenges by yourself. Your Chapter 7 lawyer will be there to:
- Help you decide which chapter to file under, and when.
- Determine which exemptions are most advantageous for protecting your property.
- Prepare and file your bankruptcy paperwork.
- Represent you in proceedings with your creditors.
- Protect you from harassment by creditors or debt collectors.
- Explain your rights and responsibilities under bankruptcy regulations, such as your responsibility to undergo credit counseling and debtor education.
- Prepare you for any tax-related consequences that may result from filing for bankruptcy.
- Help you explore alternative options to bankruptcy, where applicable.
Without legal representation, you will lose all of these advantages, and will have a more difficult time getting the debt relief you need.
Roseville Bankruptcy Lawyers for Chapter 7, 11, and 13
The Bankruptcy Group serves Californians who reside in the Sacramento, Folsom, and Roseville areas. We handle business bankruptcies and personal bankruptcies, and represent both single filers and married couples who wish to file jointly.
If you’re thinking about filing for Chapter 7, Chapter 11, or Chapter 13 bankruptcy in the Sacramento area, make sure you get the legal help you need for the greatest chance of success. For a free and confidential legal consultation with an experienced Folsom Chapter 7 lawyer, Folsom Chapter 13 lawyer, or Folsom Chapter 11 attorney, contact our law offices at (800) 920-5351 today.