Why is a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy like a Marriage?

by Douglas Jacobs, Esq.

August 11, 2013

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The chapter 13 process in bankruptcy is surprisingly similar to a marriage.

First a debtor seeks out a bankruptcy attorney. Like going to a bar looking for someone to spend the evening with, a debtor will ask around about who is a good attorney, who he can communicate with easily, and who has the time to devote to the “relationship.”

Once an attorney is located, the dating process begins. The debtor “courts” the attorney by telling him everything, bringing papers, documents and payment for the services. The attorney “courts” the debtor by answering questions, being available for phone calls, organizing and reviewing the paperwork and counseling the client.

The case is filed. The courtship is over, the couple is engaged, and the confirmation process begins. There is discussion about the “plan” as there is about wedding details. But, with some work on both sides, the plan gets confirmed.

The honeymoon period begins. Everything is great – the creditors have stopped calling, the debtor is making the monthly payments, the attorney has put the file in the “confirmed” box and off his desk, and the communication between attorney and debtor is peaceful and pleasant.

For a while, just like in a marriage, things fall into a pattern: everything is going smoothly, and it’s all fine.

Then it happens: the debtor wants a new car, or to refinance or modify the house payment. In a marriage, the first thing that happens is a discussion of such a change. That should be the first thing in the Chapter 13 also: the debtor should talk to the attorney about how this will affect the existing plan.

Unfortunately, often the debtor forgets to call the lawyer. Much like the discord in a marriage when one spouse takes unilateral action affecting the family economics, so too will a debtor’s actions affect the chapter 13. Now there is a motion to bring and court approval of a modification of the Chapter 13 plan. And if the debtor acts completely unilaterally, without consulting his attorney, it can cause a motion to dismiss the plan. As in a marriage, calmly dealing with the problem can fix things, but not talking to each other will quickly end the relationship!

Treat your chapter 13 attorney like a spouse: tell him about any changes you want or need to make.

 

photo credit: AliCPhotography

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Douglas Jacobs is a California bankruptcy attorney and partner in the Chico law firm of Jacobs, Anderson, Potter & Chaplin. Since 1988, Mr. Jacobs has taught Constitutional law and Debtor-Creditor/Bankruptcy law at the Cal Northern School of Law. He has served as Dean of Students since 1994. He is a frequent lecturer on the subject of consumer bankruptcy law, and has spoken at both state and national levels.

Last modified: August 22, 2013