A chapter 12 case begins by filing a petition with the bankruptcy court serving the area where the individual lives or where the corporation or partnership debtor has its principal place of business or principal assets. Unless the court orders otherwise, the debtor also shall file with the court (1) schedules of assets and liabilities, (2) a schedule of current income and expenditures, (3) a schedule of executory contracts and unexpired leases, and (4) a statement of financial affairs. Fed. R. Bankr. P. 1007(b). A husband and wife may file a joint petition or individual petitions. 11 U.S.C. § 302(a). (The Official Forms may be purchased at legal stationery stores or downloaded from the Internet at www.uscourts.gov/bkforms/index.html. They are not available from the court.)
The courts must charge a $200 case filing fee and a $75 miscellaneous administrative fee. Normally the fees should be paid to the clerk of the court upon filing. With the court's permission, however, they may be paid in installments. 28 U.S.C. § 1930(a); Fed. R. Bankr. P. 1006(b); Bankruptcy Court Miscellaneous Fee Schedule, Item 8. The number of such installments is limited to four and the debtor must make the final installment no later than 120 days after filing the petition. Fed. R. Bankr. P. 1006(b). For cause shown, the court may extend the time of any installment, provided that the last installment is paid not later than 180 days after the filing of the petition. Id. The debtor may also pay the $75 administrative fee in installments. If a joint petition is filed, only one filing fee and one administrative fee are charged. Debtors should be aware that failure to pay these fees may result in dismissal of the case. 11 U.S.C. § 1208(c)(2).
In order to complete the Official Bankruptcy Forms which make up the petition, statement of financial affairs, and schedules, the debtor will need to compile the following information:
- A list of all creditors and the amounts and nature of their claims;
- The source, amount, and frequency of the debtor's income;
- A list of all of the debtor's property; and
- A detailed list of the debtor's monthly farming and living expenses, i.e., food, shelter, utilities, taxes, transportation, medicine, feed, fertilizer, etc.
Married individuals must gather this information for each spouse regardless of whether they are filing a joint petition, separate individual petitions, or even if only one spouse is filing. In a situation where only one spouse files, the income and expenses of the non-filing spouse are required so that the court, the trustee, and the creditors can evaluate the household's financial position.
When a chapter 12 petition is filed, an impartial trustee is appointed to administer the case. 11 U.S.C. § 1202. In some districts, the U.S. trustee appoints a standing trustee to serve in all chapter 12 cases. 28 U.S.C. § 586(b). As in chapter 13, the trustee both evaluates the case and serves as a disbursing agent, collecting payments from the debtor and making distributions to creditors. 11 U.S.C. § 1202.
Filing the petition under chapter 12 "automatically stays" (stops) most collection actions against the debtor or the debtor's property. 11 U.S.C. § 362. Filing the petition does not, however, stay certain types of actions listed under 11 U.S.C. § 362(b). The stay arises by operation of law and requires no judicial action. As long as the stay is in effect, creditors generally cannot initiate or continue any lawsuits, wage garnishments, or even telephone calls demanding payments. The bankruptcy clerk gives notice of the bankruptcy case to all creditors whose names and addresses are provided by the debtor.
Chapter 12 also contains a special automatic stay provision that protects co-debtors. Unless the bankruptcy court authorizes otherwise, a creditor may not seek to collect a "consumer debt" from any individual who is liable with the debtor. 11 U.S.C. § 1201(a). Consumer debts are those incurred by an individual primarily for a personal, family, or household purpose. 11 U.S.C. § 101(8).
Between 21 to 35 days after the petition is filed, the chapter 12 trustee will hold a "meeting of creditors." If the U.S. trustee or bankruptcy administrator schedules the meeting at a place that does not have regular U.S. trustee or bankruptcy administrator staffing, the meeting may be held no more than 60 days after the debtor files. During the meeting the trustee puts the debtor under oath and both the trustee and creditors may ask questions. The debtor must attend the meeting and answer questions regarding the debtor's financial affairs and the proposed terms of the debtor's repayment plan. 11 U.S.C. § 343; Fed. R. Bankr. P. 4002. If a husband and wife have filed a joint petition, they both must attend the creditors' meeting. In order to preserve their independent judgment, bankruptcy judges are prohibited from attending. 11 U.S.C. § 341(c). The parties typically resolve problems with the plan either during or shortly after the creditors' meeting. Generally, the debtor can avoid problems by making sure that the petition and plan are complete and accurate, and by consulting with the trustee prior to the meeting.
In a chapter 12 case, to participate in distributions from the bankruptcy estate, unsecured creditors must file their claims with the court within 90 days after the first date set for the meeting of creditors. Fed. R. Bankr. P. 3002(c). A governmental unit, however, has 180 days from the date the case is filed file a proof of claim. 11 U.S.C. § 502(b)(9).
After the meeting of creditors, the debtor, the chapter 12 trustee, and interested creditors will attend a hearing on confirmation of the debtor's chapter 12 repayment plan.