Before you go to court, make a list of all your income and expenses and all your assets and debts. This is to make sure you don’t forget any of them when you get to the hearing. Take the list to court with you.
If the subpoena ordered you to bring certain documents, bring them. It is important that the judge knows what all your debts and expenses are, as well as your resources. Otherwise, you may be ordered to pay more than you can really afford.
What happens at court?
Showing up, and what to do if the creditor isn’t there
Get to the courthouse on time. If you are not sure which courtroom you need to go to, ask the court clerk. Go into the courtroom and sit down so you are ready when the judge calls your name. When the judge calls your name, stand up and answer.
If the creditor or their lawyer does not answer when called by the judge, ask the judge to "terminate" the disclosure hearing. If the creditor does not go to the hearing, you cannot be ordered to go to a hearing about this debt for at least six months (unless the court finds that the creditor had a very good reason for not going to court).
If this happens, your debt does not go away. The disclosure is just postponed for six months.
Talking to the creditor’s lawyer
When you get to court, the creditor’s lawyer may try to negotiate a payment plan with you. The court will probably encourage you to meet with the creditor's lawyer outside the courtroom. Here are some tips for talking with the lawyer:
- Do talk with the creditor’s lawyer, especially if the court asks you to do this. Talking is ok. If you talk it over, you may be able to agree on payments that you can afford.
- Do not agree to a payment plan just because you are afraid of having a hearing, or because the creditor’s lawyer really wants you to make an agreement.
- Do not agree to payments that are more than you can realistically afford. You can always get a hearing before the judge if the lawyer is requesting payments that you think are too high for you.
- You do not need to make an agreement before the hearing. The hearing will cover the same issues the creditor's lawyer discussed with you.
What if I make a deal with the creditor’s lawyer?
If you reach an agreement with the lawyer before a hearing, it will usually be reflected in an “affidavit and agreement.” You and the lawyer sign the agreement. Then the judge will use this to write a payment order.
If you enter into a payment agreement with the creditor's lawyer, don’t leave the courtroom until the judge knows what the agreement is. Go with the creditor’s lawyer to tell the judge the agreement, and make sure the judge's order matches your agreement. You will probably get a copy of the judge's order while you are there. Read it, and make sure it is correct before you leave.
What will happen if we go to a hearing before a judge?
The creditor’s lawyer will ask you what property you own, how much money you make, and what your expenses are. You are under oath and you must tell the truth. If the creditor’s lawyer does not ask about your expenses and debts, you should explain these when the judge asks if you have anything more to say. If the judge doesn't ask, you should tell them anyway. Use the list of expenses and debts you wrote down before coming to the hearing. This will help the judge to see how much you can afford to pay the creditor.
What can the judge order once the hearing is over?
When the disclosure hearing is over, wait and see what the judge will say. If the judge decides that you have no ability to pay anything right now, the judge will say so. The hearing will then be “terminated.” If that happens, the creditor will not be able to request another disclosure hearing on the same debt for another six months. But, your debt does not go away.
If the judge decides you are able to make payments, they can order a few different things:
- You can be ordered to pay cash. If the judge decides you can pay the debt in one payment, you will be ordered to do so. If the judge decides you do not have the ability to pay the debt in one payment, you can be ordered to pay installments. This means that you would have to pay a certain amount every week or every month, or whatever time period the judge orders.
- The judge can order you to turn over something you own to the creditor. The creditor would sell what you turned over, take the money you owe, and return any leftover funds to you. If the judge orders you to turn property over to the creditor, make sure that you tell the judge what the property is worth. If you do not know, ask the judge to order an appraisal. Someone who knows what that kind of property is worth will look at your property and decide what it is worth. This will give you an idea of how much the property should be worth at a sale.
- The judge can order that a lien be placed on property you own. This means that the creditor will have a claim to part of your property until you pay back what you owe. If someone has a lien on your property, you may not sell it without the consent of the creditor. The creditor may have already put a lien against your property - based on the earlier court order saying that you owe debt.