Business Disputes that Follow You Into Your Bankruptcy Case
A creditor can challenge the discharge of its debt in bankruptcy. This is not common, but is more so after a debtor closes a business.
Why Creditor Challenges Are More Common in Closed-Business Bankruptcies
For the following reasons, creditors tend to object more to the discharge of their debts in bankruptcy cases that are filed after the debtor has operated and closed a business:
- The amount of debt owed, and thus the amount at stake, tends to be larger than in a conventional consumer case, making objection more tempting to the creditor.
- In the business context some debtor-creditor relationships can be very personal, so when the business fails, these creditors take it personally. Consider debts between former business-partners who are blaming each other for the failure of the business, or between a business owner and the business’ primary investor who believes the owner drove the business into the ground, or between the contract buyer of a business and its seller in which the buyer feels that the seller misrepresented the profitability of the business. In these situations the aggrieved creditor is more personally motivated to fight the discharge of its debt.
- The owners of businesses in trouble find themselves desperate to keep their businesses afloat. So they make questionable decisions which then expose them to objections about fraud and such once they file bankruptcy.
- In the kinds of close creditor-debtor relationships mentioned above, the creditor often has hints about the business owner’s questionable behavior, and so is more likely to believe it has the legally necessary grounds to object.
But Objections to Discharge Are Still Not Very Common
When former business owners hear that any creditor can raise objections to the discharge of its debt, they figure an objection would very likely be raised in their case. But in reality these objections occur much less frequently than might be expected, for the following reasons:
- The legal grounds under which challenges to discharge must be raised are quite narrow. To be successful a creditor has to prove that the debtor engaged in rather egregious behavior, such as fraud in incurring the debt, embezzlement, larceny, fraud as a fiduciary, or intentional and malicious injury to property. These are not easy to prove, so creditors do not tend to try unless they have a strong case.
- In his or her bankruptcy case the debtor publically files a set of papers containing quite extensive information about his or her finances, and does so under oath. The debtor is also subject to questioning by the creditors about that information and about anything else relevant to the discharge of his or her debts. If the information on the sworn documents or gleaned from any questioning reveals that the debtor truly has no assets worth pursuing, a rational creditor will often decide not to throw “good money after bad” by raising an objection.
In a closed-business bankruptcy case there are these two opposing tendencies. Challenges to discharge are more likely, especially by certain kinds of closely related creditors. But these challenges are still relatively rare because of the narrow legal grounds for them and the financial practicalities involved. A good bankruptcy attorney will advise you about this, will prepare your bankruptcy paperwork to discourage such challenges, and will help derail any such challenges if any are raised.