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Judicial Structure for U.S. Bankruptcies

There is no such thing as filing a bankruptcy petition in a state court.  State courts have no jurisdiction over bankruptcy and any debtor filing bankruptcy must file with a U.S. bankruptcy court.  In addition, the bankruptcy courts are units that fall under the U.S. federal district courts, which are trial courts in the federal court system.  District courts have jurisdiction over federal criminal and civil case matters.  There are 94 federal judicial districts in the United States, including Puerto Rico, and each state has at least one district court.

The district court is a higher level court than a bankruptcy court and also has jurisdiction over bankruptcies.  However, federal district courts, in most cases, refer bankruptcy cases to the bankruptcy courts for handling.  An extraordinary situation may warrant that a district court withdraw a case from a bankruptcy court and oversee the matter itself.

Judicial staff that handle bankruptcy cases

Bankruptcy judges hear and decide on bankruptcy cases and their decisions may be subject to appeal in a district court or through a Bankruptcy Appellate Panel.

The Executive Office of the United States Trustee, an office overseen by the United States Department of Justice, appoints case trustees to administer bankruptcy cases and represent creditors' interests.  The U.S. Trustee appoints bankruptcy trustees for one-year periods to handle Chapter 7 bankruptcies.  Chapter 13 bankruptcies have standing trustees for certain geographic regions and they administer cases in their particular area.

Navigating the legal system can be confusing when filing bankruptcy.  While individuals filing bankruptcy can represent themselves, which is called pro sé representation, the courts do not recommend it.  Bankruptcy courts are very strict about paperwork and deadlines and actions must adhere to the Bankruptcy Code and court procedures, regardless of whether a debtor has representation through a skilled bankruptcy lawyer or not.

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