Can I File Bankruptcy Without an Attorney in Kansas?

Since the bankruptcy laws were changed in 2005, it is VERY HARD to file a bankruptcy petition without an attorney. The process is difficult and you may lose property or other rights if you do not know the law. The New York City Bankruptcy Assistance Project says, currently, about 9 out of 10 self-prepared bankruptcy petitions are being dismissed—that is, the debtor does not get relief from their debts.

Several Kansas debtors have ended up with federal criminal charges because they failed to disclose property and financial transactions in the bankruptcy cases they filed for themselves.

If you go ahead and file your case without an attorney (the court calls this pro se) and you make mistakes, you will spend more money to hire an attorney to fix your case than you would have if you had hired an attorney in the first place.  I once had a client with a cabinet business.  He thought he could not afford an attorney so he hired an out-of-state petition preparer over the Internet for $300.  The preparer was not supposed to give legal advice, but worse than no advice, he gave bad advice .  The cabinet maker filed a chapter 7 bankruptcy pro se and the trustee demanded shut down of his business, his way of making a living.

My cabinet maker had to borrow money from his father to pay me and to pay the trustee to settle his case and save his livelihood.  All of this drama could been avoided had he hired me from the get go.  It would have cost my client less and he would not have had to pay the trustee.

You can’t put the genie back in the bottle so your newly hired lawyer may not be able to fix all the damage you caused to yourself by filing a bankruptcy without an attorney.  For example, property rights are fixed on the date of filing of the bankruptcy.  If your chapter 7 trustee demands turnover of property, your attorney will not be able to change the date of filing.  It is too late for any prebankruptcy planning.  Your attorney might win a legal argument you didn’t make, but you’ll have to pay the trustee for your property to keep it, or lose it, if there is no valid argument to make.  You may have to convert to chapter 13 bankruptcy and pay for the property through a payment plan.

Warning: many attorneys will not accept a case after it is filed pro se by the debtor without an attorney so it may be difficult to find an attorney after your case is filed.

Will Bankruptcy Hurt My Immigration Status?

Here is a post by my friend and fellow blogger, Jay Fleischman, on his blog about filing for bankruptcy and the impact on your immigration status.  I like his common sense advice.

When a potential client is sitting in front of me and contemplates filing for bankruptcy, they often ask about the impact of the proceeding on their immigration status.  If you’re a permanent resident of the U.S. or a visa holder, you need to know how filing for bankruptcy will impact you – and what you need to discuss with your immigration lawyer.

Many permanent residents and those on visas are deep in debt and considering either Chapter 7 or Chapter 13.  Thankfully, there’s nothing in the immigration or bankruptcy laws that make life difficult for those who have filed for bankruptcy.  Your naturalization papers don’t ask if you’ve filed for bankruptcy, nor do your bankruptcy papers ask you about your immigration status.

The only thing that may impact your immigration is your moral character.  There was a time when being in debt may have been evidence of living outside of the general standards of the community, but with over 1 million people filing for bankruptcy each year any such argument would be unlikely.  In fact, there’s a pretty good chance that your immigration hearing officer or someone close to them has experienced bill problems of their own.

In fact, there’s some evidence that being in debt and letting it stew without taking any action may negatively impact your immigration status.  When you file for citizenship there’s a question that asks about whether you owe any federal, state or local income tax debts.  If you do then you’re going to have some explaining to do before you take the oath.

In addition, willfully failing or refusing to pay child support may be considered evidence of poor moral character under 8 C.F.R. § 316.10(b)(3).  That, too, will stand in the way of your ability to become a U.S. citizen.  By filing for bankruptcy under Chapter 13, however, you may be able to reorganize and repay those child support debts and show you’ve mended your ways.

The upshot is this – it’s better to be out of debt than in debt.  The U.S. government recognizes this, and doesn’t want to stand in your way.  If you’re an honest person and in debt, filing for bankruptcy will leave you in a better financial situation.  That, in turn, will make you more likely to be a productive member of society and less likely to need to rely on the government for financial assistance in the future.

For more information and legal advice, please seek an immigration law specialist.  Kansas attorneys who specialize in immigration law are Michael and Rekha Sharma-Crawford and Angela Ferguson.

Jay Fleischman and Jill Michaux blog on Bankruptcy Law Network and Money Health Central.