Discharge of Debt Attorney

Michigan Discharge of Debt in Bankruptcy Filings

What is a “discharge in Bankruptcy”?
A Bankruptcy discharge releases the debtor from personal liability for certain specified types of debts. In other words, the debtor is no longer legally required to pay any debts that are discharged. The discharge is a permanent order prohibiting the creditors of the debtor from taking any form of collection action on discharged debts, including legal action and communications with the debtor, such as telephone calls, letters, and personal contacts. Although a debtor is not personally liable for discharged debts, a valid lien (i.e., a charge upon specific property to secure payment of a debt) that has not been avoided (i.e., made unenforceable) in the Bankruptcy case will remain after the Bankruptcy case. Therefore, a secured creditor may enforce the lien to recover the property secured by the lien.

When does the discharge occur?
The timing of the discharge varies, depending on the Chapter under which the case is filed. In a Chapter 7 (liquidation) case, for example, the court usually grants the discharge promptly on expiration of the time fixed for filing a complaint objecting to discharge and the time fixed for filing a motion to dismiss the case for substantial abuse (60 days following the first date set for the creditors’ meeting). Typically, this occurs about four months after the date the debtor files the petition with the clerk of the Bankruptcy court. In individual Chapter 11 cases, and in cases under Chapter 12 (adjustment of debts of a family farmer or fisherman) and 13 (adjustment of debts of an individual with regular income), the court generally grants the discharge as soon as practicable after the debtor completes all payments under the plan. Since a Chapter 12 or Chapter 13 plan may provide for payments to be made over three to five years, the discharge typically occurs about four years after the date of filing. The court may deny an individual debtor’s discharge in a Chapter 7 or 13 case if the debtor fails to complete “an instructional course concerning financial management.” The Bankruptcy Code provides limited exceptions to the “financial management” requirement if the U.S. trustee or Bankruptcy administrator determines there are inadequate educational programs available, or if the debtor is disabled or incapacitated or on active military duty in a combat zone.

How does the debtor get a discharge?
Unless there is litigation involving objections to the discharge, the debtor will usually automatically receive a discharge. The Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure provide for the clerk of the Bankruptcy court to mail a copy of the order of discharge to all creditors, the U.S. trustee, the trustee in the case, and the trustee’s attorney, if any. The debtor and the debtor’s attorney also receive copies of the discharge order. The notice, which is simply a copy of the final order of discharge, is not specific as to those debts determined by the court to be non-dischargeable, i.e., not covered by the discharge. The notice informs creditors generally that the debts owed to them have been discharged and that they should not attempt any further collection. They are cautioned in the notice that continuing collection efforts could subject them to punishment for contempt. Any inadvertent failure on the part of the clerk to send the debtor or any creditor a copy of the discharge order promptly within the time required by the rules does not affect the validity of the order granting the discharge.

Are all of the debtor’s debts discharged, or only some?
Not all debts are discharged. The debts discharged vary under each Chapter of the Bankruptcy Code. The Code specifically excepts various categories of debts from the discharge granted to individual debtors. Therefore, the debtor must still repay those debts after Bankruptcy. Congress has determined that these types of debts are not dischargeable for public policy reasons (based either on the nature of the debt or the fact that the debts were incurred due to improper behavior of the debtor, such as the debtor’s drunken driving).

There are 19 categories of debt excepted from discharge under Chapters 7, 11, and 12. A more limited list of exceptions applies to cases under Chapter 13. The most common types of non-dischargeable debts are:

• Certain types of tax claims
• Debts not set forth by the debtor on the lists and schedules the debtor must file with the court
• Debts for spousal or child support or alimony
• Debts for willful and malicious injuries to person or property
• Debts to governmental units for fines and penalties
• Debts for most government funded or guaranteed educational loans or benefit overpayments
• Debts for personal injury caused by the debtor’s operation of a motor vehicle while intoxicated
• Debts owed to certain tax-advantaged retirement plans
• Debts for certain condominium or cooperative housing fees

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