Your bankruptcy process will include at least one (the 341 meeting), and likely two (fee waiver) hearings. Here are some of the most common hearing types you might encounter along the way to your fresh start:
Meeting of Creditors (341 Meeting) - This is when you will meet with the trustee to discuss your filing and the assets that you have reported on your paperwork. The process is fairly straightforward -- you can learn more about it in this 341 Meeting Preparation video.
Fee Waiver Hearing - This isn't a hearing so much as it is a court appearance. You will be presenting your fee-waiver forms to a "judge" (generally their assistant and not the judge themselves) rather informally, and, based on the income and expense information that you provided, they will either approve or deny your application. There is almost no discussion during this meeting.
Reaffirmation Hearing - If you indicated that you wanted to keep your car and continue making payments (reaffirm the loan) on your paperwork, you will need to attend this hearing after your 341 Meeting and before your discharge. You will appear in court before a judge, and you will need to explain why you are reaffirming the debt. The judge will likely ask you a few questions. As long as you can afford to continue making payments, and as long as your reason is believable, the judge should approve the reaffirmation.
Creditor's Motion for Relief of Stay - This type of hearing is a bit more complicated. It happens when one of your creditors asks the judge to allow them to begin collection efforts against you again despite your bankruptcy filing. It doesn't happen often, but when it does it is usually for secured debts like car loans. If the judge grants the creditor's motion, they will be able to collect on the debts you owe -- usually be repossessing the property securing the loan. If you are scheduled for a hearing on this type of a motion, it is a good idea to have a lawyer attend with you.
Adversary Proceedings - This type of hearing occurs when one of your creditors formally objects to the court forgiving their portion of your debt. Usually this occurs with very large debts or with domestic issues (when you owe a friend or family money and they do not want to let you out of it. Your bankruptcy will be delayed until either the disagreement between you and the creditor is resolved or the judge dismisses the adversary proceedings. If you are scheduled for a hearing on this type of a motion, it is a good idea to have a lawyer attend with you.
These hearings vary in content and procedure, but there are a few features common to all of them that you should consider in order to get the best outcome:
Bring sufficient identification to the courthouse. Usually you will need at least two of the following:
Social Security card
Proof of address
Credit card with your name on it
Bring at least two copies of all relevant forms and documents with you.
Dress for success. You don't need to wear a three-piece suit, but dressing professionally when you attend hearings will go a long way toward helping you succeed in the hearing.
Be polite. Address the judge as "your honor," don't speak until you are spoken to, say "please and thank you," and don't start fights with the other side if they appear in court. A little politeness can go a long way in court!
Pay attention. A lot of what is happening in court will be new to you, so it is important that you pay careful attention while you are there. Watching other people who speak before you will help you know what to expect, and listening to the judge, trustee, etc. will help you make sure that you don't miss anything.
Ask questions. As scary as court can be, the judges, clerks, and trustees you will encounter there are usually not out to get you. If you don't understand something, just ask! They'll be happy to help.
Checkout your state bankruptcy court's website for specific hearing requirements and further guidance. Most courts have "pro se" guides that walk you through representing yourself in hearings. These will help you know what to expect and make sure that you are confident and prepared for your hearing.
Google is your friend. You can find tutorials on just about any hearing type online. Just search "How to prepare for (hearing name)" and you'll find a wealth of resources.
Hearings are not as hard as you might think, and we know that you will ROCK yours! If you have any questions or need some guidance, please don't hesitate to call or email us.