The thought of being involved in any legal proceeding can be scary. Some people may even avoid legal help when they need it, because they are afraid of the potential consequences or of going through a long, drawn-out process. When it comes to bankruptcy, you’re already going through enough financial stress, so you’d probably prefer to avoid an intimidating courtroom and judge. The good news is that most bankruptcy clients never have to enter a courthouse to successfully file necessary paperwork and go through their case.

An Overview of Bankruptcy

Many people experience financial challenges. They may come because of unemployment, underemployment or significant medical problems. When debts become too heavy to bear, bankruptcy might be an option. This legal process discharges you from many of your debts. This occurs after either your assets are liquidated, as in Chapter 7 bankruptcy, or after you agree to a repayment plan with creditors, as in Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Bankruptcy can offer a debtor a fresh start, but it also has consequences. Declaring bankruptcy can severely damage your credit. It also stays on your record for seven to 10 years. For most people, this is the last resort; it may be better to first try to negotiate terms with creditors.

First Steps

If you are feeling overwhelmed with excessive debt, and you’re considering bankruptcy, you should speak to an attorney. An experienced bankruptcy lawyer can assess your situation and determine whether this decision is in your best interests. Your lawyer will also walk you through the process and give you an idea of what the results of your bankruptcy will look like. You will then meet with a bankruptcy trustee (along with your lawyer) to certify that the information in your file is accurate. The trustee will also ask you questions about your financial situation. The meeting usually will not take place in a courtroom and does not involve a judge. It is also short and straightforward.

When Courtroom Appearances Are Necessary

You can take comfort to know that you wouldn’t ordinarily have to appear before a judge in a courtroom for your bankruptcy. However, if you are declaring an exemption of any asset liquidations, a judge may require you to attend a hearing. In this proceeding, the court will determine whether you get to retain your declared property. You would also have to appear in court if the bankruptcy includes any litigation such as if any creditors decide to sue you.

Most bankruptcy cases don’t involve courtrooms. Schedule a meeting with a bankruptcy lawyer, to better understand how these processes work so you can decide what is best for you.