Don’t Get Disqualified from the All-Important “Automatic Stay”

In VERY RARE circumstances, ALL of your creditors can pursue you even if you file bankruptcy. Here’s how to avoid those rare but dangerous circumstances.

In my last blog I listed three special classes of debts for which you can still be pursued in spite of filing bankruptcy. They are exceptions to the automatic stay, the broad protection from creditors that you get immediately when your bankruptcy case is filed.  But in this blog today I’m talking about a circumstance in which the automatic stay does not apply to your case AT ALL, regarding ANY of your creditors. And about another circumstance that you can lose the protection of the automatic stay 30 days after your case is filed. 

Because of the huge importance of the automatic stay, you absolutely want to avoid these circumstances, as rare as they might be.

For anybody who is thinking about filing a bankruptcy and has NOT had a previous bankruptcy case filed in their name in the last year, and then dismissed, you can stop worrying about this. Or if you have already filed a bankruptcy case recently and I’m getting you worried here, stop worrying if you did NOT have a previous bankruptcy case filed in your name, and then dismissed, in the year before your present case was filed.

But, IF you filed TWO OR MORE prior bankruptcies in the year before your new one, AND they were dismissed, the automatic stay does NOT go into effect with the filing of the new case.  The automatic stay CAN go into effect AFTER the case is filed if certain conditions are met.

Or, IF you filed ONE prior bankruptcy in the year before your new one, the automatic stay EXPIRES 30 days after the filing date, unless certain conditions are met before then. 

The details of the conditions for imposing or preserving the automatic stay are beyond the scope of this blog. What IS of immediate and absolute importance is that you must tell your attorney—AT the BEGINNING of your INITIAL CONSULTATION—if you have filed ANY prior bankruptcy cases, and especially any recent ones.

Now if you’re wondering who goes around filing multiple bankruptcy cases in one year?—it happens more often than you might think.  It tends to come up two ways: 1) A person files a bankruptcy without an attorney, gets overwhelmed by the process and doesn’t follow through, so the case gets dismissed. 2) Or a person hires an attorney, signs some papers, and the case gets filed, maybe without the person even realizing it, and then gets dismissed because he or she (or the attorney, for shame) doesn’t follow through. In either case, eleven months later they’ve forgotten all about it. Or don’t think it’s important.

The point of these anti-automatic stay rules is to stop “serial bankruptcy filers,” the very, very small minority of folks who filed multiple bankruptcy cases, arguably abusing the bankruptcy process, usually to repeatedly delay a foreclosure or some other creditor action.  But these rules can also seriously penalize innocent people in situations like the ones I just mentioned.

Avoid this happening to you by 1) thinking carefully about whether there is ANY possibility that you filed a prior bankruptcy case within the last year, and 2) then telling your attorney if there’s ANY chance that you did. If so, there’s a good chance the bankruptcy court can be persuaded to impose or retain the automatic stay, but only if your attorney knows about the issue in advance and determines whether your case so qualifies.