Perhaps you're wondering why your co-worker filed for bankruptcy, or maybe someone who filed bankruptcy owes you money and you want to find out what's going on with his case. No matter what the reason, you can view the records of any bankruptcy case filed in the United States. By reading and reviewing the case documents, you will get a sense of why someone filed for bankruptcy and how the case will affect you.
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Contents of Bankruptcy Records
Bankruptcy filings, or records, consist of all the documents that are filed in a particular case. This includes everything from the bankruptcy petition, which initiates the case, to the bankruptcy schedules that list the property owned by the debtor filing the case. The bankruptcy filings also reflect any motions filed in the case, which are formal written requests to the bankruptcy court. Some important motions for which you should watch are motions to dismiss the case or motions to convert to another type of bankruptcy proceeding. These motions reflect a possible failure on the part of the debtor to follow bankruptcy rules and may affect your rights if the debtor owes you money.
Researching Filings in Person
Each state has one or more federal districts, each with its own bankruptcy court. You can search the bankruptcy records in person at the relevant bankruptcy court clerk's office. You can locate the court you need on the United States Courts website. Each bankruptcy court has a clerk's office, which provides the administrative support for that court. You can review and research bankruptcy filings by visiting the court clerk's office and requesting to view all the files for a particular bankruptcy case. To do this, you will either need to know the case number of the proceeding or the name
of the person or business that filed the bankruptcy petition.
Researching Filings Online
The easiest method to research bankruptcy cases is through "PACER," an electronic public access service of United States federal court documents. After registering with the PACER website and logging in, you are able to research bankruptcy filings by case name or case number. If a debtor owes you money, the bankruptcy court will mail you the case number. If you do not have the case number, search by the debtor's name. When you enter the name, PACER provides a list of all the cases that match that particular name. For example, if the debtor has a common name, such as John Smith, many cases will show. However, if you search by the case number, PACER will bring up that particular case. PACER charges a small, per-page fee for each document you download.
How to Review Bankruptcy Filings
Whether you are reviewing bankruptcy filings electronically or in person at the courthouse, you review the records in the same way. Each bankruptcy case has what is known as a "docket." A docket is an index of all the documents filed in a particular case. This allows you to quickly review all filings in a bankruptcy case and choose which specific documents you need. For example, if you are looking for the schedule of property filed by a debtor, visually search for the word "schedule" in the docket. If you are looking for a motion to dismiss, visually scan the docket for the word "dismiss." If you are reviewing the docket on a computer, you can use the computer's search function to quickly find these words. You can download a document from PACER, or if you are searching in person, you can request the particular document from the clerk.