New York Southern District Bankruptcy Court
Residents of New York County must file in the New York Southern District Bankruptcy Court
Counties served by the New York Southern District Bankruptcy Court:
Bronx, Dutchess, New York, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Sullivan, Westchester
What is CM/ECF
This term refers to "Case Management/Electronic Case Filing."
This an "electronic filing" procedure that only applies to attorneys.
If you are filing for bankruptcy without an attorney (also known as filing 'pro se'), you can safely ignore all the warnings about "mandatory CM/ECF" -- you are not required to file electronically.
If you are an attorney, don't worry. This procedure is not as complicated as it sounds. In most districts, it basically means that the forms must be saved as PDF files and submitted in a specified manner.
Am I required to file electronically?
Many court web sites have prominent references to "mandatory" electronic filing or "mandatory ECF." Do not be alarmed. You are not required to file electronically, unless you are an attorney.
It is true that, in most courts, attorneys must now file all documents and forms electronically, and they must take training on how to file electronically with the court. However, by law, that rule does not apply to individuals filing without the help of an attorney. If a court clerk tells you otherwise, they are incorrect. Ask to talk to their supervisor to clear up the matter.
In most cases filing electronically is not all that technologically challenging. In many districts, it simply means filing the documents in PDF format.
What does "pro se" mean?
If you're filing for bankruptcy without the help of an attorney, follow all links that use the term "pro se." "Pro se" (pronounced 'pro-SAY') is the Latin term for people handling their own legal matters without a lawyer.
Many courts (as if to make things harder for non-lawyers) provide information for such persons by using this Latin term, rather than plain-English. The more service-oriented courts labeled such information with links like "Filing without an attorney." Courts that aren't as helpful tend to hide such information behind a link called "pro se information" or "pro se filers"
What does "pro bono" mean
"Pro bono" is a Latin term that refers to lawyers who are willing to provide assistance for free. Bar associations like to talk about the fact that lawyers do 'pro bono' but, in fact, very few actually do, and the need for legal services is far greater than the amount of pro bono help available. Nevertheless, some court websites will direct you to pro bono services instead of simply providing the information you need.
Pro bono services can be uneven. Some can be excellent while others may be done by lawyers with little expertise in bankruptcy law. If you read a good book on how to file for bankruptcy before you meet with your pro bono lawyer, you will be better able to gauge their knowledge of bankruptcy law.
Will the court staff explain the filing procedure to me?
To some extent, yes, but it depends on the court.
Some courts are quite willing to help non-attorneys and will give you a packet of information that explains the filing procedure in detail, and in plain English.
Other courts are quite hostile to debtors attempting to represent themselves and will make it a point not to help you at all.
The difference between courts can be dramatic, as evidenced by the wide range of difference between various court websites.
See the "court ratings" section on this page. The list of courts that "get it" provide helpful information to non attorneys.
If the staff at your court tells you that they can't offer you any help, you may wish to refer them to the websites of these other bankruptcy courts that manage to provide ample help the general public.
Wisconsin Western District Court - "Filing Without an Attorney"
Maryland District Court - "Non-Attorney Filers
North Carolina Eastern District Court - "Helping you Help Yourself" (does not load properly on a Mac).
Oklahoma Eastern District Court - "Filing Without an Attorney"
California Eastern District Court "Self Service Center"
What is a 341 Hearing?
A 341 hearing is the so-called "creditors meeting" that every bankruptcy filer must attend shortly after you file your bankruptcy papers.
For many filers, this will be your only trip to the courthouse. This is when you meet with the bankruptcy trustee appointed to your case, and are asked questions about the information you have entered on your forms.
Most court websites post schedules of 341 hearings, and when you file, you will be notified of your hearing date. When you show up for your hearing, you will find that many other people have hearings set for the same day. You sit wait for your name to be called.
This is also the time when creditors can ask questions about your papers, and objections to your filing may be raised by creditors.
Glossary of Important Terms You're Likely to find in Court Websites
2006 HHS Poverty Guidelines
Official Court Website:
(Note: Court websites change often and links go out of date. If a link does not work, go to the home page for the court and look for the materials from there.)
What you'll find there:
If you file for bankruptcy, you'll need to file your papers with one of the courthouses that serve the New York Southern District Bankruptcy Court. You'll have to go there in person at least once to meet with the bankruptcy trustee.
Where to start
Before you file, there are three kinds of information you'll need to get from the court's website:
The New York Southern District Bankruptcy Court offers information specifically designed for people filing without an attorney. Depending on how prepared you are, some of this may be review. But you may find lots of helpful info on how they do things in this particular court. Some courts just offer links to a generic national information page. In the best cases, courts offer specific guidance about local procedures.
Depending on how poorly they're written, your court's local rules probably won't make much sense to you. Don't worry. You may not be affected by most of the rules.
However, you will need to follow the rules about filing procedure and how to format the creditors' "mailing matrix" (a list of creditor's names and addresses). Each court has its own rules about these things, and they tend to be fussy about it. You must comply with the details of the process, such as filing dates, filing procedures, fees, and a myriad of other bureaucratic wonderfulness.
If your court publishes plain-English instructions for those filing without a lawyer , use that first, rather than trying to read the actual rules.
Chapters 6 and 7 of How to File for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy offer more information on what to look for in local rules and how to ask the court clerk for the information you need as you prepare your paperwork and fill in yourforms.
3. Court forms.
Bankruptcy is a forms-intensive process, kind of like doing a long tax return.
The main forms you use in bankruptcy are federal forms, used nationwide in all bankruptcy courts.
Your bankruptcy court may have additional local forms for dealing with things like the list of creditors.
Other information from the court
Most courts link to a downloadable U.S. Courts publication called "Bankruptcy Basics." This offers a decent overview of Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy -- but has no information about how to actually file or fill in the mountain of forms.
Now most courts also link to a new helpful video on the Federal Courts website that explains the bankruptcy process.
Court won't help you? Nolo will!
Step-by-Step Instructions for Getting Through Chapter 7 Bankruptcy
How to File for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy
(Nolo, 16th ed., 2009)
Buy now: Nolo :
For 20 years, this book has helped thousands of debtors navigate the confusing maze of rules involved in filing for bankruptcy.
Chapter 6. Complete and File Your Bankruptcy Paperwork
Chapter 7. Handling Your Case in Court
Buy now: Nolo (publisher)
Complete Table of Contents
Filing for Chapter 13?
Chapter 13 Bankruptcy:
One Bowling Green
176 Church Street
300 Quarropas Street
What's all this about "CM/ECF"?
If you visit any bankruptcy court website, you will see prominent notices about mandatory "CM/ECF" which stands for "Case Management/Electronic Case Files." If you are representing yourself (filing without a lawyer), don't worry about this -- it applies only to lawyers (although most sites fail to mention that important fact).
If you're a lawyer, you must file your client's bankruptcy forms electronically and receive training on how to do it. Electronic filing simply means filing your forms as PDF (Acrobat) files via the internet or CD-ROM. Creating PDF files does not require special software. Any software that can print can also produce PDF files with the proper software add-ons. There are some specialized attorneys' bankruptcy software that will produce PDFs from data you enter.
Most downloadable official forms these days are PDFs with fillable fields and most computers can "print" a filled-in form to a PDF file. (See the Free Bankruptcy Forms page for more info)
Dealing with "legalese"
on court websites and forms
Courts should serve all taxpayers, not just lawyers. Filing requirements should be clear and accessible to everyone. After all, everyone must follow the law, so why not make the rules clear and in plain English?
Unfortunately, not all courts provide clear, simple instructions for filing bankruptcy forms. It takes some effort to translate legalese into plain English, and some courts just don't bother. In fact, many courts call information for non-lawyers "pro se" (a Latin term) information. They just don't get it.
Fortunately, more and more courts are starting to "get it" and are providing information to help non-attorneys get find relevant information and lay out clear timelines of essential procedures and explain requirements in a clear, easy to follow manner.
Courts that "get it"
In our first review of 90 bankruptcy court websites nationwide two years ago, LegalConsumer.com found only a handful that provide clear, well-organized filing information for those who don't speak legalese. These courts showed what could be done if all courts would bother to take the time to help the general public. All bankruptcy courts should follow their example.
In more recent reviews, we've discovered a promising trend: many court websites have shown significant improvement over the last two years.
If your court's website isn't helpful, check out one of these sites....
Bankruptcy courts that do a good job of explaining procedures to non-lawyers
Here are the best of the best. Note that links go directly to the court's info for non-lawyers:
Note: As you will see if you look at several of these, most of the information you find is general and applies regardless of which court you're filing in.
However some procedures are "local" and deadlines and forms can vary from court to court.
Always confirm that you are complying with your own court's local rules and procedures.
One of the best courts in the nation in providing information to non-lawyers. A model that other courts would do well to follow. Some of the information could be better organized, but it is far better than what most courts offer. The court even offers community outreach programs to explain the bankruptcy process to the general public. Reviewed 5/2/2009. Updated March 2012.
The "Debtor Home Page" link on the home page leads to a menu of filing information for non-lawyers. Forms are fillable. All in all, this court does a good job of providing information to non-lawyers. Reviewed 1/13/08. Revised March 3, 2012.
Brand new site overhaul has transformed this court's website from one of the worst to one of the best. Essential information is clearly labeled and easy to find from the home page. The "Filing without an attorney" link is the place to start if you're going it alone. What an improvement! Reviewed March 3, 2008. Updated March 3, 2012.
Much improved since last review. Now offers a guide to persons filing without an attorney, featured prominently on the front page. Although it features many shrill warnings, it does an admirable job of spelling out the deadlines and procedural requirements for a successful filing. Reviewed May, 2009. Updated March 2012.
Straightforward navigation. Clear links, Filing Without at Attorney home page is a good one-stop resource for filing information. One of the best in the nation. (May 2009) Still excellent. March 2012.)
One of the best courts in the nation for helping people filing without an attorney. A huge improvement since our last review. Reviewed 6/14/2008.
Still good. March 2012.
Features a new section for "non attorney filers" that collects all relevant information into a single menu. The filing requirements section offers a helpful list of checklists. Even includes instructions for each of the official forms, which the federal courts main site no longer provides. Be sure to check out "top ten filing mistakes". (May 2009) Still great. March 2012.
Despite lots of warnings saying they can't help non-attorneys, they do, in fact provide a reasonably helpful menu of links to self-filers, and even say so in English. They do offer a fillable means test form. Reviewed May 2009. Still very good. March 2012.
This court went from a grade of F to a grade of A- in this most recent review (May 09). Many improvements have been made, to the point where this court does a good job presenting needed information efficiently and clearly. The info is not all that in depth, but the links are well organized. A model for other bankruptcy courts around the nation. You can easily find what they have to offer. Click the "Debtor Help" tab on the main menu to get started. May 2009. Update. Still very good. March 2012.
They get credit for having a page geared to non-attorneys and making the link to the info fairly prominent. The home page is messed up as of this review. Click the link called "General Information" to get a better starting point. (May 2009.)
Update: Home page now has prominent "Debtors & Self Assistance" area that makes it easy to find the information you need. Nice improvements move its grade from a B to a A and a spot in the hall of fame. March 2012.
Offers a dedicated menu to help non-attorneys. Filing requirements are spelled out clearly. (May 2009) Update. Home page does a good job of steering consumers in the right direction to the information they need. Worthy of a "hall of fame" designation for overall quality. March 2012.
Good revisions to this court recently include a guide specifically designed for debtors filing without an attorney. May 2009. Update: New Jersey has embarked on a cutting edge experiment in pro se filing. They now allow debtors to file electronically, without an attorney. Great idea. Will be interesting to see if this idea spreads. Could be a model for other courts. One caveat. Their link to the federal exemption statutes fails to mention that the statutory amounts are indexed for inflation and are now higher than what appears in the statute. Nevertheless, this court gets and A+ for effort and innovation in attempting to serve consumers. March 2012.
One of the most debtor-friendly sites in the US bankruptcy court system. Home page links in plain English direct non-attorneys to important and helpful information. May 2009.
Still excellent. March 2012
This court now offers procedural guidance to non-attorneys. Also offers live chat to guide you to helpful resources. One of the only courts to offer that. Their pro se page offers links to helpful manuals from the local legal aid society. You can tell that a lot of thought and effort has gone into helping self-represented debtors. Well done. Reviewed March 2012
Information for non-attorneys is easy to find, and quite exetensive. Some branches of the court even have a "Pro Se Law Clerk" specifically assigned to help people who are filing without an attorney. May 2009. Update. Court does an excellent job of organizing info and making it easy to find. Much better than most bankruptcy courts in the county. March 2012
One of the first courts to offer information to non-lawyers. The "Pro Se Debtor Info" links from the home page go directly to a menu that links to information for non-attorneys on how to file, including forms and instructions about procedure. Forms page is clear and helpful. (May 2009) Update> Still good, but home page link is in Latin. Reviewed, March 3, 2012.
Not much here, at first glance. Go to the Site Map to find anything. Decent page for filing without an attorney, once you find it. (May 2009)
Update: Navigation has gotten better as there is now a direct link from home page for folks filling without an attorney. Information is well organized and clear. March 2012.
New interface is a bit too clever by half. Important info is buried in the menu called "Court" Click the "No Attorney" link. Once you get past that, it's pretty good. Pop up menus work very slowly and may not work on all browsers. On some browsers you may not even see the menus at all! Has a dedicated pro se counter. (May 2009) Update: Court should make website work with all browsers. Important information is missed if the home page menus don't work right. But downloadble PDF guides are good, but were written in 2007. March 2012.
Vastly improved organziation since last review when this court got a faling grade for organization. Now it's a model. Perhaps they were listening. Once you find the information, it's actually quite good. Many of the FAQs are quite good. (May 2009)
Update. Still very good. March 2012
Redone website features a link called "SELF HELP / Pro Se" on the menu of the home page. Makes too much use of pop up menus, can be difficult to navigate, but the info is there. (May 2009) Update. Still true. Menus are a bit unwieldy but the info is good once you get there. March 2012
Now features a special menu just for those filing without an attorney. Offers clearly organized guidance as to what to do when. (May 2009) Update. Still excellent. Could be a model for other courts. March 2012.
Offers non-attorneys a handy complete downloadable packet of all required forms, all in fillable PDF format, but little in the way of instructions. In the "Filing Resources" section of the site, they have a special page for non-attorneys, with links to relevant info. Also has an innovative online help desk as an alterative way of getting information. (May 2009) Update. Still a good site. Hasn't changed much in three years. March 2012.
The website is quite well organized and important information is easily accessible, and now features a "Filing Without an Attorney?" page which is quite useful. Well done. One of the best in the nation in terms of offering checklists, etc. (May 2009) A few links and link names updated in since last review. Earlier review still stands. March 2012.
Really wacky web design and use of color. The home page link to "Unrepresented Debtor Information" takes you to a page that links to relevant pages of the website. The Forms button has a pop up link to a special list of forms just for those who are fililing without an attorney. Nice. (May 2009)(Still true, March 2012.)
Nice clean site design. Much improved since last review. Information for debtors without an attorney are easily found on the home page. Well done. (May 2009) Still true as of March 2012.
Still sets the standard for user-freindly bankruptcy court websites. The source of some first class, well written, crystal clear information for non-lawyers filing for bankruptcy. A model for the rest of the courts in the nation to follow. Provides links to fillable PDF forms. Well done in every respect. Taxpayers are getting their money's worth in from the Western District of Wisconsin Bankruptcy Court. It got an A+ when it was reviewed a year ago, and still gets that rating this time around. Reviewed 1/16/2008. Still true. (March 2012.)
Vastly improved since last review, when we gave the court website an "F for failing to provide much help to non-lawyers. That has changed, thanks to a new link on the home page, featured in both Latin ("Pro Se") and English ("Self Help Filing Information"). This link takes you to a dedicated page of information for self-help filers, which boils down the basics of what you need to file, with links to related resources and forms. (Be sure to download the PDF file of local rules, and especially in the Appendix to the local rules, for important information and forms.)
Most of the court's site still primarily caters to attorneys and bankruptcy pros, but now, at least, the new 'pro se' page offers a place for ordinary people to find the information they need. Reviewed 1/29/2008. Still true. (March 2012.)
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