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Can I file for bankruptcy on my own?

The main driver behind people's consideration of personal bankruptcy as an option for debt relief is that their financial situation has reached a point where there is not enough money to cover all of their obligations. So it may seem logical from a cost perspective to try to save money by going through the petition process on your own, without the help of an attorney.

It is certainly possible to serve as your own advocate in bankruptcy court; there is no legal requirement for a lawyer to represent you, just as you are not required to go to an auto mechanic to fix your car, or a carpenter to fix your roof, or an electrician to fix the wiring in your home. But the learning curve to figure out how a bankruptcy works is steep, and the consequences for making a mistake can be severe.

The U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Ohio has prepared information to help those who are contemplating a self-help bankruptcy. The information tends to be complex, but some of the key items that can be drawn from it include:

  • Some mistakes made in preparing the petition may cause the court to refuse to accept it;
  • The failure to adhere to certain deadlines can delay or even derail a petition;
  • The failure to appear in person, or to present satisfactory identification can complicate the petition process; and
  • Bankruptcy court personnel are unlikely to answer any questions you may have about how to prepare or file your petition, because they are forbidden by law from providing legal advice.

While bankruptcy can offer some significant protections and advantages, it is a high-stakes endeavor that carries inherent risks if it is undertaken improperly. This is not to say that you cannot or should not retain an experienced bankruptcy law firm to help you. But doing so can reduce the risks to you from an inadvertent mistake that could disrupt and delay your ability to take advantage of bankruptcy as a solution.

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