I am often asked, “What is it like when I go to Court?” Yes, you have to go to Court.
It is really not near as bad as people imagine, in fact, after their court appearance most of my clients say they don’t know what they were so worried about.
Court is always at the Federal Courthouse in downtown Sacramento, 501 I Street, to be exact. It is always Federal Court, not State or County. Debtors (that is what a person is called when they file for bankruptcy) will go to the 7th floor of the Courthouse. They will not be appearing before a Judge in a courtroom, but with a Trustee in a room filled with many other Debtors. This is called a Meeting of Creditors. It is called that because it is a meeting with the Trustee to answer a few questions and creditors (the people who are owed money) are allowed to appear and ask questions of the Debtor. Creditors do not often appear, but they are given notice and can appear if they so choose.
So, you are in this room full of people where nothing is private, you hear everyone’s story and they hear yours. It is an open room where anyone can attend. Typically, it is just other Debtors and their attorneys and the Trustee, of course. When the Debtors’ name is called, they go to the front of the room to a table where the Trustee is seated, accompanied by their attorney, if they have one. On a side note, if you are represented by an attorney and your attorney is not in court, the Trustee cannot hear the case until your attorney arrives. Once at the table with the Trustee, you are asked a series of questions. Everything you say is tape-recorded at that table, therefore, you must answer out loud, nodding or shaking of the head will not be allowed. You will be sworn in to tell the truth and you MUST show the Trustee your drivers’ license (or state ID card) along with your Social Security card. Your attorney is not permitted to answer the questions, it is your bankruptcy so you must answer the questions asked by the Trustee. The questions are simple and straightforward; the Trustee does not attempt to “trick” you, but simply asks questions about what you have put in your bankruptcy petition.
Typical questions asked are:
Did you read over your bankruptcy petition with your attorney before it was filed?
Is everything still true and correct? Are any changes needed?
Are you currently suing anyone?
Does anyone owe you money?
Do you owe child support or alimony?
Have you transferred anything out of your name in the past five years?
Have you paid back any relatives money in the last one year?
Those are just a sampling of questions and the examination lasts an average of under five minutes, although questioning could go much longer in a complicated case.
Once done, you are free to leave. In the common “no asset” bankruptcy, the Trustee will conclude the hearing and you will receive your Discharge of Debtor a little over 60 days from your court appearance.