The information provided here is intended to answer frequently asked questions from pro se debtors (debtors without attorney representation) and creditors, and is not to be interpreted as legal advice. The information is subject to change without notice.
A person who files for bankruptcy without the representation of an attorney is a pro se debtor. Only individuals (which includes married couples) are eligible to file a pro se case. Other debtors, including, but not limited to corporations, partnerships, municipalities and those entities who wish to file a Chapter 9 or Chapter 15 case must retain an attorney.
Pro se debtors must comply with the Bankruptcy Code (Title 11, U. S. Code), the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure (Fed. R. Bankr. P.) and the Local Rules for the Eastern District of Virginia. Failure to do so may result in dismissal of the case.
Individual debtors are generally required to obtain credit counseling from an approved provider within 180 days before filing a case, and to file a statement of compliance and a certificate of credit counseling furnished by the provider, pursuant to 11 U.S.C. Section 109(h)(i). Pursuant to 11 U.S.C. Section 109(h)(3), the requirements of paragraph (1) shall not apply if the debtor(s) file(s) a certification that describes exigent circumstances that merit a waiver of the requirements of paragraph (1); that states that the debtor requested, but was unable to obtain the credit counseling services, from an approved non-profit budget and credit counseling agency, during the 7-day period beginning on the date on which the request was made; and, the certification is satisfactory to the court. WARNING: Failure to complete the credit counseling prior to the filing of the petition (and no earlier than 180 days prior to the filing), or, in the alternative, failure to meet the requirements for an exemption from the requirement (pursuant to 11 U. S. C. Section 109(h)(4) ) or an extension to complete the credit counseling, will result in the dismissal of the case pursuant to Local Bankruptcy Rule 1007-1(I)(2). Things to bear in mind:
- Credit counseling may be conducted on a computer. If you do not have a computer, the public library may allow use of its computers. Credit counseling may also be obtained in person or by telephone.
- Be sure that you take the counseling from a U. S. Trustee-approved credit counseling agency; make it clear to the agency that you need the counseling for the purpose of filing a bankruptcy case.
- Ask the credit counseling agency to provide to you a certificate describing the credit counseling services provided, as well as a copy of any debt repayment plan developed through the agency. you will need to file these documents in your bankruptcy case (see 11 U.S.C. 521(b)).
- Be sure that the certificate you receive reflects that you received the credit counseling within 180 days prior to filing your petition. Credit counseling received greater than 180 days prior to filing your petition will not satisfy the statutory requirement.
- Some courts interpret the general statutory requirement in 11 U.S.C. Section 109(h)(1), that the debtor obtained credit counseling “during the 180-day period preceding the date of filing of the petition”, as meaning that credit counseling obtained prior to the filing of the petition, on the day of filing the petition, does not satisfy the requirement.
- Debtor education, obtained from an approved debtor education provider, is not the same thing as pre-petition credit counseling, and does not satisfy the requirement of 11 U.S.C. Section 109(h)(1).
These additional resources are recommended for review prior to filing:
- Filing Requirements for Chapters 7, 11, 12 and 13, available from the Court’s web site, at http://www.vaeb.uscourts.gov, under Filing Requirements.
- Filing for Bankruptcy Without an Attorney – United States Courts web page, containing general information regarding credit counseling, legal services, foreclosure and petition preparers
- Bankruptcy Basics – United States Courts web page, containing general information about bankruptcy laws and the bankruptcy process
- United States Courts Bankruptcy Forms - Official and procedural forms required for filing bankruptcy, which may be completed online and printed or downloaded to your computer
- Bankruptcy Resources – United States Courts web page, containing information regarding bankruptcy fees, fee waiver, credit counseling agencies and debtor education providers, and means testing
- Before You File for Personal Bankruptcy: Information About Credit Counseling and Debtor Education – Federal Trade Commission web page containing general information regarding credit counseling and debtor education
- Credit Counseling and Debtor Education Information – U.S. Department of Justice web page, containing containing general information for both credit counseling and debtor education for consumers. Locate an approved credit counseling agency through this site
Creditors and other non-debtor parties should be aware of the following points regarding proceeding pro se:
Right of A Creditor Who is an Individual to Appear and Participate in Case and to File Pleadings/Documents
- A creditor who is an individual may pursue any matter pro se. Although many creditors are able to successfully proceed pro se, with respect to some of the more routine aspects of a bankruptcy case (ex.: filing a proof of claim), you may wish to consult with an attorney before proceeding, in order to make sure that you are proceeding properly.
Filing of Papers by Corporations and Partnerships – Corporations and partnerships generally may not file pleadings/documents pro se, in a bankruptcy case, and, with certain exceptions, will need to obtain representation by an attorney to file any pleadings/documents. However, any creditor, including a corporation or a partnership, through a non-attorney representative (ex.: member, officer, or employee) may file any document pro se that would not constitute the practice of law, including the following documents, or amended version thereof:
- A Request for Notice/Service, under Fed. R. Bankr. P. 2002(i)
- A Proof of Claim or Amended Proof of Claim (Official Form B10)
- A Notice of Mortgage Payment Change
- A Notice of Post-petition Mortgage Fees, Expenses and Charges
- A Response to Notice of Final Cure Payment Rule
- A Transfer of Claim Other Than for Security (Form B210a)
- A Reaffirmation Agreement and proposed Order regarding that Agreement
- A Withdrawal
- A Withdrawal of Claim
Participation by Corporations and Partnerships at the Meeting of Creditors – The meeting of creditors is the initial meeting at which the debtor must appear and submit to an examination, under oath, under 11 U.S.C. Section 343.
- Under 11 U. S. C. Section 341(c), and notwithstanding any other statute, rule or state constitution provision to the contrary, a creditor (including a corporation or partnership), or representative of such creditor, holding a claim arising from a consumer debt, must be permitted to appear at and participate in the meeting of creditors in a case under Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Code.
Inability of Corporations and Partnerships to File Pleadings/Documents and Appear Pro Se in a Proceeding Brought By or Against It
- A corporation or partnership may not commence a proceeding pro se or appear in a proceeding commenced by it pro se. For example, a corporation may not file a motion for relief from the automatic stay, pro se.
- A corporation or partnership may not appear pro se to defend against a proceeding brought against it in a case. This includes both filing pleadings/documents and representing itself without an attorney at any hearing. For example, it may not appear pro se to defend against an objection to its proof of claim (however, it could file an amended proof of claim pro se, to resolve the objection, as such filing is not considered a prohibited pro se appearance).
- Although a corporation or partnership may not file pleadings/documents pro se in a proceeding brought against it, or appear pro se at any hearing, it may, without an attorney, contact the attorney of the opposing party, to discuss a settlement of the matter. The Court, however, encourages corporations and partnerships to consult with competent legal counsel if in need of legal advice.