Many bankruptcy attorney ads say: “Stop garnishments.” “Stop foreclosures.” “Stop repossessions.” So bankruptcy stops all those bad things. But is it as good as it sounds? How does it really work?
In my last blog I said that in keeping with getting a fresh start for the new year, I’d get down to basics. There’s nothing more basic than getting immediate protection for you, your paycheck, your home, and your possessions. You get this protection the minute a bankruptcy is filed for you, either a “straight” Chapter 7 case or an “adjustment of debts” Chapter 13 one. Other than some very rare exceptions, all efforts by creditors against you or your property must come to an immediate stop. You’ll hear this referred to as the “automatic stay.”
“Stay” is just a legal word for “stop” or “freeze.” “Automatic” means that this “stay” goes into effect simultaneously with the filing of your bankruptcy petition. That filing itself, by virtue of the federal Bankruptcy Code, “operates as a stay” of virtually all creditors’ actions to pursue a debt or grab collateral. It doesn’t take a judge signing an order or even any further action by you or your attorney to impose the stay.
But although the automatic stay is instantaneous, practically speaking the creditors need to know about the filing of your case so that they can abide by the stay. Assuming your creditors are all listed in your schedules of creditors, they should all get informed by the bankruptcy court within about a week or so after your case is filed, without any additional action by either you or your attorney. If you are not anticipating any action against you by any of your creditors sooner than that, usually letting them all be informed by the court is appropriate. But if do expect some quick creditor action, be sure to talk with your attorney about it so you’re both on the same page about informing that creditor.
But what if a creditor unexpectedly takes some action in the days after your bankruptcy is filed but before it finds out about it? The automatic stay is so powerful that if this does happen, the creditor must undo whatever action it took against you, even if it did not know about your bankruptcy filing. So if after your bankruptcy is filed, a creditor, for example, files a lawsuit against you or turns its earlier lawsuit into a judgment, that lawsuit must be dismissed or the judgment must be set aside.
In my next blog I’ll tell you about how long this automatic stay protection lasts. If you can’t wait until that blog, give me a call or set up an appointment to see me. I’ll tell you all about it personally.