Will you ‘deserve’ a bankruptcy discharge?

Will you ‘deserve’ a bankruptcy discharge?

Clients worry a lot about the effects of filing either Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy.  They worry they won’t ‘deserve’ a bankruptcy discharge.  I am sometimes asked if there will be a moment when the bankruptcy judge and jury will ‘hear the case’ and decide whether the person ‘deserves’ to have their bankruptcy debts discharged.  As an attorney, there is nothing quite as compelling as being asked these questions.  I feel terribly for those who fear that they’ll be shamed or humiliated by the court, but who are in such bad straights that they still seek relief–as though things are so bad that they are willing to take the pain they fear.  I get the sense that people imagine that the bankruptcy process is like a criminal court or civil court, where facts are decided and there is a definitive winner (someone is losing / someone is going to jail / someone will have to pay).  These fears are not warranted, because the process of filing bankruptcy is not like a civil or criminal trial at all in most cases.  There are no debtor’s prisons.  There is no public shaming.

In the vast majority of bankruptcy cases filed, there is no moment when a judge decides a debtor’s fate. That is because the Code is written to presume that people who file are entitled to a bankruptcy discharge.  That means that unless the dischargeability of a certain debt is challenged, or unless a debt is specifically excepted from discharge–it will be discharged.  So long as you do not perjure yourself or commit fraud, you are entitled to be discharged of your debts.

If you file Chapter 13 bankruptcy in Georgia, you will have to pay a Chapter 13 plan payment for as long as 5 years.  If you file Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Georgia, you may have to surrender non-exempt assets.  But, our Constitution, the laws of the State of Georgia, and the Title 11 of the United States Code (the Bankruptcy Code) provide the same path to a fresh start to everyone–regardless of how he or she got into his or her predicament. You and I will be extensively discussing all of the circumstances that put you in my office.  I am here to help you understand the code and to get you back into your life.  I have a duty to protect you and to advocate on your behalf.  The court is not here to judge you (and neither am I).