You want to file a bankruptcy case and are ready to find an attorney.

Where does your case get filed and where should you look for your attorney?

Do you File Where Your Debts Were Made?

Many believe that you file the case where your debts were incurred, so that, for example, if your debts are all taxes from California and you are currently living somewhere else, your case would be filed in California.


Filing Anywhere in the USA?

Others think you can file bankruptcy anywhere in the USA since bankruptcy law is federal.

Also incorrect.

Venue For Bankruptcy Filings

Bankruptcy cases must be filed in the District where the “domicile, residence, principal place of business in the United States, or principal assets in the United States, have been located for the 180 days immediately preceding” the commencement of the case. 28 U.S.C. §1408.

Or, if there was more than one location in the 180 days, then wherever the longer portion of the 180 days that the domicile, residence or assets were located.

Typically venue is established by where one resides and the general rule is that if you’ve lived in a location for more than 90 days (or had your principal assets or place of business for the last 90 days), that’s where your case gets filed.

It is possible, of course, to be able to file in multiple locations based on the above rules.

For example, if you own a house in Arizona, but you have lived in Los Angeles, California for more than 90 days, and have minimal assets in California, then you could file either in Los Angeles or in the Arizona district where the property is located.

Your domicile is your primary residence in which you live.  It is determined by your intent to dwell there.  If you live a few months out of the year in a vacation home in Idaho, but the rest of the year you live in California, your domicile is likely California and not Idaho.

How To Locate The Proper Bankruptcy Court

Once you have determined the correct city or county for your residence or domicile (or asset or principal business location), go to the U.S. Courts website. Click your domiciled state on the colored map, then, click “Advanced Search.”  Then click “Search by Circuit,” and choose “Bankruptcy Court” in the drop down menu.

Choose your federal circuit according to what it showed on the colored map and click “Locate.” Find the geographically closest bankruptcy court.   (It will list all the DIVISIONS within that district. You need to check with a bankruptcy attorney or the bankruptcy court website for that district to determine in which division to file).

States have their districts set up in different ways, but in California, for example, there are FOUR federal districts:  Northern, Central, Southern, and Eastern.

Within each district there are several divisions of bankruptcy courts which cover specific areas within the district.

Finding a Bankruptcy Attorney

Whether you are a debtor seeking to file a bankruptcy case, or a creditor seeking representation in a bankruptcy case filed “against” you, you need to find a bankruptcy attorney that practices in the federal district where the case is filed.

In order to practice in a federal district, an attorney must first be licensed by the State Bar of the state in which the district is located.

The attorney must also be admitted to practice in the specific federal district.

But to find a bankruptcy attorney you should start in the State and County where the bankruptcy case is (to be) filed.

Some bankruptcy attorneys handle matters throughout their state.  Some limit their practice to the areas near to their office.  And yes some big law firms have branches in multiple states and districts.

But it’s not going to do you much good to contact a bankruptcy attorney in a different state from where your case will be filed (or where the case is already filed).


Image Courtesy of Erica Cherup