Prior to the enactment of BAPCPA (Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act) in 2005, pro se debtors (individuals who file bankruptcy without the representation of a lawyer) could buy blank Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 forms, complete these forms in longhand without a computer, make the required number of copies, go to the local U.S. Bankruptcy Court, and wait their turn in line to file a bankruptcy case.
Most bankruptcy courts had not yet evolved to providing online access to the clerk’s office, and anyone, even lawyers, wishing to file a bankruptcy case would have to stand in line with multiple copies of their bankruptcy petitions and schedules, enduring the wait in line for each copy to be stamped by hand.
Bankruptcy documents prior to BAPCPA were not impossible for the average consumer to decipher. Once the correct exemptions were taken, an individual filing pro se could successfully maneuver through a Chapter 7 case with few complications or stumbling blocks. Chapter 13 cases were comparatively more complicated, but some pro se filers could find success.
Now, in 2019, fourteen years after BAPCPA’s enactment, any layperson filing a Chapter 7 or 13 bankruptcy case without the advice and assistance of an experienced bankruptcy attorney faces much more difficulty both starting and completing the process of filing bankruptcy. One of BAPCPA’s intended purposes was to make this process more difficult for consumers. It succeeded. Bankruptcy forms for both Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 cases have become longer and more complicated.
Thus, post-BAPCPA, the paperwork that must be completed to file a bankruptcy case is voluminous, confusing, cryptic, and even challenging to read and decipher because of its small print. These forms resemble and draw comparisons to long, complicated tax forms. There are over twenty forms to complete, and most of the forms are comprised of several pages. In sum, even a consumer with an average bankruptcy case will be minimally required to complete over fifty pages of paperwork to file a bankruptcy case, regardless of the chapter under which it is filed.
This long paper trail is especially true of the form that comprises the means test. Most consumers have difficulty determining what income must be included in the means test and how to make the appropriate additions, reductions, and other necessary calculations when their income exceeds the median amount. If a filer has any questions about completing this required paperwork, the form itself will not provide the necessary answers.
Congress intended to seriously hamper consumers’ ability to file bankruptcy by hindering their ability to file pro se. Many people experiencing financial turmoil have no money to hire an attorney. Our nation’s lawmakers hoped that the inability to afford a lawyer in tandem with the overwhelming task of filing pro se would cause many individuals to forego bankruptcy and the fresh start that it affords them.
It is beyond comprehension to expect consumers to understand an area of law that is non-intuitive and requires knowledge of federal and state substantive law, as well as local rules of practice and procedure.
Thus, to file bankruptcy, most consumers do not have any meaningful options other than hiring an experienced bankruptcy attorney. Filing bankruptcy as a pro se debtor without an attorney may cause problematic situations to arise during a bankruptcy case that have irreversible consequences.
Correctly calculating all of a bankruptcy debtor’s relevant income and expenditures to meet the requirements of the means test may require a complex legal analysis. Theron Morrison and his team of attorneys at MLG may help anyone with this complicated but necessary evaluation. Talk to the Morrison Law Group about how you may qualify for a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy case. Call 801.456.9933 today to schedule a FREE consultation. We have locations in Ogden, Logan, Sandy, and St. George to serve the residents of the counties of Weber, Cache, Salt Lake, Utah, Morgan, Davis, Washington, and surrounding areas. Happy Thanksgiving from the Morrison Law Group!