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Who are the players in the bankruptcy process? Who decides if the case is approved ?

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There are three key players in every bankruptcy case:
  • The Clerk
  • The Trustee
  • Your Attorney

Individual creditors (like your mortgage company and the IRS) might also get actively involved, but not always.

The bankruptcy court (the bankruptcy judge) makes final decisions about your case, but in most cases you will never deal directly with the bankruptcy judge. And if you do end up seeing a judge, it usually means there’s a problem or a dispute that the players can’t resolve between themselves.

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If you think about the bankruptcy process as a sporting contest, you can imagine there are players, score keepers and officials who all have to accept the League’s final decisions. You can think of the Federal Bankruptcy Court itself (the judge) as the League.

The Clerk of Bankruptcy Court (score keeper and official)

The Clerk of Bankruptcy Court acts as score keeper and sometimes as an official that can declare a winner or loser by default. The Bankruptcy Court Clerk is responsible for maintaining a file containing all the documents submitted in a bankruptcy case, which is generally available to the public. The Bankruptcy Clerk seals some documents, which limits who can review them. Bankruptcy rules make certain information private, like social security numbers, the names of minors and bank account numbers. Players are supposed to cover up such information before filing (strictly speaking, there are no papers in bankruptcy court, just pictures of papers stored electronically).

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Filing documents is like making a play. You can make a good play or a bad play, or no play at all. The bankruptcy law requires you to tell the Truth during your bankruptcy case. Since the Truth is the same regardless of how much skill or practice you have, some plays will not necessarily be good, no matter how hard you try.

At some stages of the process, bankruptcy law requires players to file documents within time limits set by bankruptcy rules and if a player fails to file on time, the rules require the bankruptcy court clerk to dismiss or throw out the case. When a case is dismissed, the Court no longer has any direct authority over the players, generally speaking. The reason you file a bankruptcy case is so the Court can protect you from creditors.

If your case is dismissed (dismissed is bad, discharged is good), you basically lose the game, since the Court no longer has the power to protect you from creditors. In some plays, you have a limited time to react in response to another player’s move. If you don’t, the bankruptcy clerk can rule against you and you lose the play.

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