I’ve been so nervous about the hearing. You all probably know by now I have a pretty severe (medically diagnosed) anxiety disorder. I work on it with meditation and other tools and, in extreme cases, with medication. A looming court date is not good for my mental health.
But I’m willing to do anything for the betterment of my family so I willingly signed up to participate and am not complaining.
I’m very lucky to have several people reach out and tell me that the Internet was not lying and the court date is not dramatic at all. In fact, they said, you will spend more time waiting than you will actually meeting with the trustee. While I trusted my friends and family, I was still wary and anxious, because that’s how my brain is wired. It’s fun to know your brain is lying to you but not being able to completely turn off that low grade buzzing sound in the back of your head that is reminding you of all the hypothetical things that could go wrong.
So last night I put out the clothes I was going to wear (I have an outfit when I want to appear professional but not overdressed. I hung it on a hanger so I wouldn’t have to look for anything in the morning) as well as having my documentation (Driver’s License and SS card) ready to go and a plan to wear a coat that would protect me from the elements. Today was high winds and wet snow and it was not fun to walk through to get from the car to the doors of the courthouse.
Then there was the always-fun part where you put your shoes and wallet and coat and GLASSES into the bin and they scan it. Then the lovely security guards get impatient and give you guff when they try to signal you with small hand gestures WHILE YOUR GLASSES ARE IN THE X-RAY MACHINE. I finally had to say, “I can’t see. My glasses are in the X-Ray machine. Can you please use your words? Thank you!” In my most upbeat, polite, please-don’t-detain-me voice.
I went downstairs and found the room I was supposed to be in.
Here’s where my early bird reference comes in.
I had a 9:30am appointment. I decided it would be prudent to be in the courtroom at 9:00am in case…I don’t know…I just like to get places early.
On a sidenote, I was ten minutes late to the dentist yesterday and was almost in tears. They were really kind about it. I accidentally fell back to sleep after my alarm went off and the law firm called to remind me about today’s court date and I realized it was ten minutes till my dentist appointment so I called and said I had a flat tire but when I got there apologized for lying becuase I felt terrible about it and they all had a good laugh and forgave me easily because they apparrantly get a lot of late people who act mean to the staff because they were late? I’m not sure. All I know is they made me feel better and that’s why they’re my dentist forever as long as they’re in business.
But back to today’s story….
I walk into the courtoom at about 9:03am (security held me up with the not being able to see delaying getting through the line in an efficient manner) and the Trustee is giving directions and I’m absolutely sure I’ve got the time wrong and I’m late and everything is about to go pear shaped.
I hang my coat up on the coat rack in the back of the room (very nice wood hangers like you’d find in a nice hotel) and pick a seat where I can see the Trustee and the assistant clearly and follow the proceedings.
One time I went to traffic court years ago and learned quickly that people in positions of authority respond differently to different approaches/tactics defendents employ. Some judges like people who are straightforward and some like a little personality. Getting somewhere early and watching other people go before you can give you a sense of how you can best present your case to get the best outcome for yourself.
It basically turns everyone who goes before you into your personal research lab rat.
I watched several people go up and have to pull their identification out of their wallet or purse and this seemed to very much annoy the Trustee. I took mine out and held it on top of my wallet so I would be prepared to hand it right over when it was my turn. Luckily, there was a lawyer sitting in front of me so I could see what time it was on his cell phone. (Normies like me aren’t allowed to bring cell phones into the courthouse but lawyers can just text and play angry birds to their heart’s content.)
At 9:28am the Trustee reiterated the same speech I’d interrupted at 9:03am about the rules and regularions. I realized I hadn’t missed anything and they did these hearings in 30-minute increments. I hadn’t come in late! I had, in fact, come in too darn early and confused myself! It was all for the best, though, because it gave me more people to see go up and learn from their mistakes.
I watched a wife make a plea to the Trustee on behalf of her husband becuase he’d forgotten his ID and had to drive a half hour home to go get it. The Trustee said if he made it back in an hour and a half by the time bankruptcy court was over for the day, his case would be heard. This let me know the Trustee was generally a good person becuase he was well within his rights to make the man reschedule. That’s always a good sign.
The worst thing I saw was a poor woman go up and her file was practically empty. The Trustee asked her if she paid someone to do her bankruptcy for her and she said, “Yes, a friend of a friend.” The look on the Trustee’s face was this….resigned sadness? He told her she needed to go back and talk to the friend of a friend and make sure they filed everything she needed.
He asked people with large amounts of medical debt if the medical problems had been caused in an accident or by a third party that could be held responsible.
The lawyers were a range of characters.
It seemed like the people who had problems all had the same lawyer. He was such a stereotype I looked around for cameras. I was sure for a minute he was there as part of a show or something. He wore a very light tan suit sizes upon sizes too big. It hung off his small, crouched frame and when he walked it looked like he was fighting the suit to get to the table. He looked so tired. Two of his clients had cases that had been originally brought months ago and one had been working through is petition for over a year!
In contrast, I had my initial meeting with my lawyer 1/2 and after giving them all the paperwork over the next week, the firm petitioned the court for my bankruptcy on 1/27, and I had my one and only court date today 2/24.
My lawyer (who I can almost guarantee cost the same as sad puppyman lawyer) looked like a sweet prep school boy and I was thrilled. He was put together and his clothes fit. Like, it was a good look. He wasn’t the lawyer I’d dealt with at the firm, but I’d heard his name and knew he was an attorney with the firm.
I put up my right hand and said my oath. I sat down and they gave me my identification back. The questioning began.
I was the ONLY PERSON IN THE WHOLE ASS ROOM to call the Trustee, “Sir.” Maybe that was overkill, but this person has the future of my tax return in their hands and I’m going to show them some r e s p e c t you know? Please. If you’re in a courthouse, bring out your sir and ma’am for the occasion.
I understand not everyone has a funeral outfit they can wear to court like I do but I was the only person there who didn’t look like they’d just rolled the hell out of bed. Well, except for one other woman who was there with her small daughter. She and the daughter both looked 10x better than I did. I hope that was appreciated by the court.
I had to state for the recording device I had read all the forms and signed all the forms after reading them and that I understood what I was signing. He pulled up my 2018 return and asked if that was the last return I had filed before 1/27 when my petition was filed. I said, “Yes, sir.” and he asked, “Have you filed for 2019?” I said, “Yes, sir. I filed on 2/5 and sent the signed copies to the attorney’s office the same day.” He asked, “Do you anticipate getting a refund?” I responded, “Yes, but according to the irs transcript there’s currently a code 570 so it’s being held for review….but that’s probably too much information….you probably don’t need to know that, do you?” He actually cracked a smile! He said, “How much of this income is yours?” I said, “Zero” and raised up my hand to indicate 0. He asked, “What about the unemployment?” I said, “That was my husband’s from when he was off work, it’s not mine.”
I don’t remember exactly what the Trustee said but I do remember my lawyer just staring at me and occasionally smiling the whole time so I figured I wasn’t botching the whole thing.
The Trustee said, “We don’t have any more questions for you.” I said, “Thank you, sir.” and started to walk out. The lawyer followed me into the hallway (which I didn’t expect, although I don’t know why) and he said, “Okay, so that means you will be able to keep your whole tax return.” I said, “Is that because Indiana is not a community property state and it is an equitable state?” The lawyer looked … not confused, just kind of like “huh?” and said, “It’s not your money so it’s not your return so it’s not the court’s to take.”
Which is exactly what I meant but I’d read online they could do any number of things with the return so I have a feeling (not fact) that my demeanor and how I handled myself contributed to the positive outcome.
Maybe I’m making more out of it than it is. I don’t know. I don’t want to seem cocky when what I really am is relieved and grateful.
We are going to use that tax return toward the downpayment on a property and the decision of the court leapfrogs us SO far in the process!!
Thank you to everyone who let me know this was not a big deal. Thank you to the Internet for also letting me know this wasn’t a big deal. Thank you to the people who went before me that made me look like a picture-perfect petitioner by having all my ducks in a row.