Bankruptcy is much easier to understand and be comfortable with if you know who the players are and what they do.

The Debtor: an individual or business who files the bankruptcy case. A debtor and spouse can file a joint petition in bankruptcy. The debtor’s most important job is to be honest and cooperative throughout the process, working closely with his or her attorney to present the appropriate paperwork and documents.

The Creditors: the businesses and/or individuals that have claims against the debtor(s). The claims are usually just for money owed on a debt, but can also include obligations on a contract or for an injury. Creditors can be involved in the bankruptcy process in many ways, but often choose not to be. They tend to be more involved if they have collateral securing their claim or have some personal ax to grind (such as ex-spouses and ex-business partners).

The Bankruptcy Clerk: the person, along with his or her staff, who handles the clerical tasks in the bankruptcy court. The clerk accepts your case for filing, maintains your bankruptcy file and handles most of the paperwork having to do with your bankruptcy case (although virtually all of this is now electronic, including the case and document filing itself). So you will not likely have anything directly to do with the clerk’s office, except receive their official mailings.

The Bankruptcy Judge: the person who ultimately is in charge of your case, although in most cases you will never see him or her (or the inside of a bankruptcy courtroom). Bankruptcy judges are appointed to terms of 14 years and are “judicial officers of the United States district court,” a step lower than regular federal judges. If there is any significant dispute with a creditor or anyone else in your case, the judge will resolve that dispute.

The U.S. Trustee: the enforcer in the bankruptcy system. Most of the time you will not hear from the U.S. Trustee, and it’s not usually good news if you do. As described on its website:

The United States Trustee Program is a component of the Department of Justice that seeks to promote the efficiency and protect the integrity of the Federal bankruptcy system. To further the public interest in the just, speedy and economical resolution of cases filed under the Bankruptcy Code, the Program monitors the conduct of bankruptcy parties and private estate trustees, oversees related administrative functions, and acts to ensure compliance with applicable laws and procedures. It also identifies and helps investigate bankruptcy fraud and abuse in coordination with United States Attorneys, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and other law enforcement agencies.

The Chapter 7 Trustee: the person charged with determining if you have assets that are not exempt (protected), and presides at your “meeting of creditors.” Is assigned to your case by the U.S. Trustee from a panel of local Chapter 7 trustees. Your attorney has no say about who becomes your trustee. In the occasional case in which there are nonexempt assets, your Chapter 7 trustee takes possession of them, sells (“liquidates”) them and distributes the proceeds to the creditors.

The Chapter 13 Trustee: the person assigned to oversee your Chapter 13 case. Unlike Chapter 7 trustees, there is usually just one Chapter 13 trustee, and his or her staff, who is assigned to all the Chapter 13 cases filed in any particular area. He or she reviews your Chapter 13 Plan and other documents, presides at your “meeting of creditors” and raises objections to your Plan before the bankruptcy court if appropriate. Once the Plan is approved, the trustee receives your Plan payments and distributes them to the creditors as specified in the Plan. The trustee can also file motions at court if you are not complying with the Plan, and informs the court when you have successfully completed your Plan obligations.

The attorneys at The Law Offices of Roger Fuller can help you with all the ins and outs of the bankruptcy process. If you are in the Dallas area and have questions about your bankruptcy options and who’s who involved in those options, please contact us. We provide a no-charge consultation. We have helped hundreds of Texans determine the best way to resolve their debts. Call The Law Offices of Roger Fuller at 214-516-6187.