Kentucky Bankruptcy Law

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The One, Two Punch of Garnishment

No, this sort of garnishment is not found on a fancy Christmas dinner plate. This is a legal mechanism by which creditors can get the money you owe them without your consent. Once a creditor has obtained a judgment against you in a court of law (and there are some government creditors that do not have to go through the court process, but still have to issue notice), they can obtain a garnishment order that you will not be aware of until it hits.

Garnishments typically take two forms. The one most people are aware of is a wage garnishment. This is an order issued to the debtor’s employer to withhold up to a certain percentage of the pay. This can actually be a huge hit, but it is only the “one” punch that leaves your head spinning. The “two” knockout punch that often surprises people is a bank account garnishment. So, if your paycheck is direct deposited into an account, the creditor can scoop the rest of your income right out of the bank leaving you with no means to pay electricity, rent or a house payment.

While a wage garnishment is an ongoing order that allows for up to a certain percentage to be seized each month, the bank account is a one time hit, yet it takes all. However, the creditor can issue new bank account garnishments so as to hit the accounts repeatedly over time getting whatever happens to be in there at that moment.

The only defense once this barrage of punches starts flying is to file bankruptcy. If an individual creditor seizes more than $600.00 through these garnishments in the 90 days immediately preceding filing, then there is a chance of recovering them. So, it is important to take action and seek the counsel of a bankruptcy attorney before you are down for the count.

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December 4, 2014 Posted by | Alternate Debt Relief, Bankruptcy, Chapter 13, Chapter 7, consumer bankruptcy, consumer debt, Consumer Protection, Debt collection, garnishment | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Making bankruptcy more affordable part 2

I gave one suggestion a couple of days ago about how to make Chapter 7 bankruptcy more affordable by paying court filing fees post-petition. The dilemma still remains that attorney fees in the typical Chapter 7 must be paid in advance. For folks whose wages are being garnished this creates a real conundrum. You are bringing home less money because a huge chunk of your pay is being seized, but you cannot stop the garnishment without filing the bankruptcy. 

One option to explore arises if you are garnished more than $600.00 by any one creditor in the 90 days prior to filing. This creates a preference. If your attorney properly exempts those funds, then you can pursue recovering the money. If the expected return is sufficient, you might be able to assign the right to recover those garnished funds to someone else who, in exchange, covers your attorney fees. Your attorney may even be willing to do this, though not likely for the entire fee because there is some risk that the funds will not be readily surrendered.

September 13, 2013 Posted by | attorney fees, Bankruptcy, Chapter 7, Exemptions, Planning, Pre-filing planning | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Crazy you say? Bigger garnishment may be better

This is absolutely counter-intuitive, I know, but it may actually be better to wait a little bit longer to file a Chapter 7 or a Chapter 13 bankruptcy if your wages are being garnished. This is because of the operation of two different statutes in the bankruptcy code. First, we have to look at 11 USC Sect 522(h) which allows the Debtor to avoid (get back) transferred property if the property could be exempted and if the trustee could have gotten it back. Second, we turn to 11 USC Sect. 547 which says, in a very circuitous way, that any transfer aggregating more than $600.00 to an unsecured creditor in the ninety (90) days prior to filing the bankruptcy can be recovered by the trustee (see 547(b) and 547(c)(8)).

So, if you had only $599.99 garnished from you wages in the ninety (90) days prior to filing your bankruptcy, then you cannot touch that money; you cannot avoid or get back the transfer. But, if you wait just one more pay-check so that the amount garnished is $600.00 or more, then you can go after the money. You need to make sure your attorney knows your pay-checks are being garnished and you must have enough “wild card” exemption (see 11 USC Sect. 522(d)(5)) to cover the amount, but this usually is no problem.

The first step for your attorney is to make sure the amount garnished during those ninety days exceeds $600.00. Then, he or she must list that money as an asset and exempt it. After filing the petition, they should send a demand letter to the creditor and the creditor’s attorney demanding the money be returned. The creditor will want to wait and see if the trustee abandons the property as exempt, and then they will likely offer somewhere around 75% return. The reason is that many districts require an Adversary Proceeding (a lawsuit within the bankruptcy) to be filed in order to recoup the funds. This means litigation costs to you, the Debtor. Then you decide if you want to take the offer or push the matter further.

November 5, 2012 Posted by | Bankruptcy, Chapter 13, Chapter 7, Debt collection, Exemptions, Garnish, garnishment, Planning, Pre-filing planning, Property (exempt, The estate | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Don’t wait for “financial Armageddon”

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) recently released their decision in Lanning which I commented on here. One of the quotes from that decision written by Justice Alito really stuck with me. Alito quoted L. Lundin & W. Brown, Chapter 13 Bankruptcy §3.1[2] (4th ed. rev.2009) as saying:

    “Potential Chapter 13 debtors typically find a lawyer’s office when they are one step from financial Armageddon: There is a foreclosure sale of the debtor’s home the next day; the debtor’s only car was mysteriously repossessed in the dark of lastnight; a garnishment has reduced the debtor’s take-home pay below the ordinary requirementsof food and rent. Instantaneous relief is ex-pected, if not necessary.”

This quote too often true and yet I want to encourage people to not let it be how you approach financial freedom. Some people wait until it is too late because of the shame over their finances being in shambles while others remain in denial about how bad things are until the last minute. I suppose some people expect to be ushered straight into bankruptcy if they see a lawyer. The truth is, though, by the time you cannot pay all your bills (that is what insolvent means), then it is high time to get professional help.

I cannot speak for all attorneys, but I like to meet with people early on to see if there is some other approach they can take other than bankruptcy. I like to lay out various scenarios and give them some sound information to base their decisions on. So, even if they do not file bankruptcy, they can make good choices about the resources at their disposal to come out of financial dire straits in the best possible shape. Don’t wait for financial Armageddon!

June 13, 2010 Posted by | Bankruptcy | , , , , | Leave a comment

Lessons in family law: appeals, bankruptcy & garnishment

There are a number of lessons to be learned from the recently released Kentucky Court of Appeals case Mickler v. Mickler, 2006-CA-001313-MR (Jan. 25, 2008)(to be published). A few of the lessons come from the procedure and facts of the underlying case rather than the appeal itself.

In Mickler, some affluent folks, Andrew and Terry got divorced. Andrew was an otolaryngologist who made in excess of $200,000.00 per year. The first lesson is that the harder it is to pronounce what you do, the more you will likely be paid. At the time of the divorce, Terry was 53 years old and had not worked outside the home for the duration of the twenty-two year marriage. The trial court awarded Terry $111,809.03 for her share in Andrew’s medical practice, half the proceeds from the sale of the marital residence and another piece of property, her car, and over $400,000.00 in retirement funds. In addition, Terry was awarded $7,000.00 in monthly maintenance for 12 years (that’s $1,008,000.00 for my fellow coupon clippers).

The second lesson is that if you are married to a highly paid professional, it pays to not pursue your own career. Actually, this is not a hard and fast rule because the majority of Kentucky appellate cases where long-term maintenance is awarded involves some form of disability on the part of the receiving spouse. I would consider this situation a gray area regarding maintenance for two reasons. First, being 53 is not really a disability although it can be more difficult to obtain gainful employment at that age without relevant experience. Second, Terry received considerable assets in the divorce. To receive maintenance, you must show that you cannot meet your reasonable living expenses and your standard of living only comes into play after crossing that initial hurdle.

Arguably, Terry could meet those reasonable living expenses (and even some unreasonable ones) with the assets distributed to her. Here though, the trial court seemed to define Terry’s reasonable living expenses by her prior lifestyle which is a bit of circular logic. If the legislature had meant for all divorced folks to maintain their prior standard of living, then they would have made the initial hurdle “lacks sufficient property . . . to provide for his standard of living established during the marriage” instead of “reasonable needs“. KRS 403.200.

I suspect these apparent errors by the trial court encouraged the filing of the appeal. Here is where the third lesson came into play. Because Andrew (actually his attorney) failed to file a supersedeas bond to stay the execution of the trial court’s orders pending the appeal. The lesson is that if you think the court messed up, be sure to do all you can to put those orders on hold while you appeal. Because Andrew did not do this, but also did not pay up, Terry filed a motion to hold him in contempt. Andrew responded with filing bankruptcy to get the stay on collection proceedings offered there.

Here is where Andrew made yet another mistake. He withdrew $64,000.00 from his checking account (I would never have another overdraft!) without disclosing this fact. That tends to be a no-no regardless of whether you are in Family or Bankruptcy court. Fortunately, Andrew was able to make a deal with Terry for temporarily reduced maintenance during that first appeal.

The Court of Appeals upheld the trial courts original order (well, I said it was a gray area – not clearly erroneous) and Terry came back with a second contempt motion. Andrew responded with yet another bankruptcy petition. This was the next mistake (sorry, I’ve lost track of how many) because this petition was quickly dismissed because (can you guess it?) the petition was filed for the purpose of avoiding compliance with the Family Court’s orders. The Supreme Court of Kentucky also turned down discretionary review of the divorce decree. Things just were not going well for Andy at this point.

Sensing that Andrew was on the ropes, Terry filed garnishments on various insurance carriers thought to owe funds to Andrew’s medical practice. That is where this particular appeal finally comes into play: click here for the rest of the story!

January 27, 2008 Posted by | Bankruptcy, Civil Procedure, Family Law | , , , , | 1 Comment