Bankruptcy Options When You Can’t Afford an Attorney
Filing bankruptcy without an attorney involves risk. The decision can affect the court’s rulings and your long-term financial health. In the state of Ohio, whether or not you have an attorney, the court expects you to follow the bankruptcy rules and procedures. Failure to follow the process could result in a dismissal.
The biggest issue with filing bankruptcy yourself without any experienced legal assistance or advice is the increased chance of error. Even the smallest mistake can cost debtors precious time by having to correct and refile the paperwork. The amendments cause delays with the court hearings to discharge the debt.
If the paperwork does make it through the system, your creditors may not be willing to wait. In which case, you may lose some property and possessions. Before things get worst, it’s best to talk with your creditor. So before filing, if you do have valuable assets, consider selling them yourself to pay off or reduce the debt and avoid bankruptcy. Unfortunately, sometimes things happen, and filing for bankruptcy is the only option.
If you are adamant about filing on your own, there are non-attorney services and legal aid clinics to help. Be prepared. Filing and completing the bankruptcy process can take anywhere between three to six months before debts are discharged.
If you’re considering bankruptcy, you need to take the time to review all of the non-attorney options. Most non-attorney assistants will prepare the documentation for a fee. But they only enter the information you provide. There are no legal obligations if you omit court required information.
By law, non-attorney assistance, court employees and judges are restricted:
- From recommending bankruptcy options.
- Prohibited from explaining bankruptcy debt discharging.
- Representing you in bankruptcy court is unlawful.
Pro Bono Services
There are free legal clinics in some areas. Do the research online to find pro bono attorneys or law firms offering legal aid for those with limited means or unable to afford legal services. Generally, they allocate a certain number of hours per month for services. Depending on your circumstances, attention to details and timing is going to make a difference in protecting your assets and regaining financial stability.
Keep in mind:
- Bankruptcy debt relief is a recovery strategy.
- Whether you pay for services or not, you need an experienced lawyer specializing in this type of legal process.
Even though time spent with a pro bono lawyer may be limited there are legal benefits. You’ll get legal guidance to help understand the paperwork, instructions on the mandatory filings, and schedules and, how to respond in court to get the results you want.
They’ll walk you through the entire bankruptcy process and share advice on options if the court denies your request. In some cases, the pro bono attorney may represent you in court.
Pro Se Clerk
Pro Se is the term used when representing yourself in a court proceeding. The Pro Se Clerk’s office can answer specific bankruptcy questions about the process and filing requirements in the state of Ohio.
- Ask about the forms or schedules you must complete.
- Learn about the filing process work.
- Get information on the filing fees.
- Inquiry about qualifying for legal assistance.
Clerks do not give any legal advice or prepare any of the forms for you. However, the office may have a list of legal aid referrals. It’s up to you to do the inquiring. You can go online and review the bankruptcy guides. Don’t forget the online information is merely a guide.
It is not a replacement for a bankruptcy attorney. Hopefully, you’re beginning to see why it’s critical to have some form of legal representation and advice when filing bankruptcy.
Self-Representation (Pro Se), Chapter 7
If you decide to file bankruptcy on your own, and you have little or no income or property, consider Chapter 7. Based on this type of financial situation, this is the only form of bankruptcy that may be successful without an attorney.
It’s the most common type of bankruptcy used by individuals unemployed, qualified for low-income margins with little or no assets.
The second most common form of bankruptcy is Chapter 13. It consolidates outstanding debt to create a repayment plan that works for individuals with a steady source of income. Payments are automatically taken from earned wages. You may be able to include the lawyer fees in this repayment plan.
- It’s set-up on a three to five-year schedule.
- No property loss with this recovery plan.
Reasons for Dismissal
The justice system and legal firms understand the reasons for many individuals choosing to file their bankruptcy. As you do your research, you’ll find the recommendations include talking with an attorney.
Although there are fewer pro se filings, the dismissal rates are higher than attorney represented cases. Here are some court statistics reflecting the outcomes.
- Dismissal is more likely when self-represented parties do not file a complete petition package.
- Pro se cases filed with incomplete information are dismissed at higher rates compared to attorney assisted cases.
- Incomplete cases filed by pro se debtors remain higher compared to attorney-represented cases.
U.S. Bankruptcy Court of Ohio
Northern District consists of 40 counties with over six million residents. In 2017, over 19,000 bankruptcy cases were filed in this district, up from 2016.
Besides involving a great deal of time on your part to review the bankruptcy laws, you must understand the court procedures. Before you begin bankruptcy proceeding on your own, consider scheduling an initial consultation with an experienced bankruptcy attorney. There’s not much room for error when filing bankruptcy.
You can get through this by choosing the best bankruptcy option that fits your circumstances and offers a viable solution to rebuild your finances. Sound legal advice and knowledge of bankruptcy laws will protect your income and property from creditors.