vol 16, num 4 | December 2018
Consumer Bankruptcy
Visit the Consumer Bankruptcy Committee page
► IN this issue:
Co-Chair Corner
Elizabeth Stephens
Elizabeth E. Stephens
Sullivan Hill Rez & Engel, APLC
Las Vegas
Richard John Cole III
Richard John Cole, III
Cole & Cole Law, P.A.
Sarasota, FL
Beth Stephens and Richard Cole, co-chairs of the ABI Consumer Committee this year, thank all committee members for their support and participation in 2018. The Consumer Committee has a diverse membership. It includes practitioners who represent debtors in chapter 7 and 13 cases, practitioners who represent creditors in chapter 7 and 13 cases, trustees, and even judges and academics. Whichever aspect of consumer bankruptcy interests you, we welcome your contribution. We are always seeking articles and seminar and webinar ideas. Our committee leadership has continued the tradition of monthly conference calls, which allows up to keep in touch and up to date.

The Consumer Committee has a number of subcommittees that are vital to the success of the committee throughout the year. Information about our subcommittees and our committee leadership is listed below.

Chris Hawkins serves as our Membership Relations Director. Chris takes the time to personally send a welcome note to new committee members. Chris is hard at work on a joint consumer and legislative committee reception for the Winter Leadership Conference. We hope to see you there.

Jon Lieberman serves as our Education Director. For the 2018 Winter Leadership Conference, the Consumer Committee is partnered with the Legislative Committee to form a panel that will examine ways in which to improve access to the bankruptcy process. Jon will organize a panel to discuss the recommendations of the Consumer Commission for the Annual Spring Meeting 2019.

During the 2017 Winter Leadership Conference, Richard, Beth and former co-chair Elizabeth Gunn testified before the Consumer Commission. The Consumer Committee also submitted written recommendations regarding student loan dischargeability. The written recommendations were published in the March 2018 issue of the ABI Journal and reported upon in WSJ Pro Bankruptcy, which described the Consumer Committee as a “group of experts.” The Consumer Committee also responded to the Department of Education’s request for comment on student loan dischargeability. At the request of the Consumer Commission, Richard prepared and submitted a memo regarding chapter 13 debtors’ attorneys’ fees.

The Consumer Committee was very active at the WLC 2018.  The Committee partnered with the Legislative Committee to present “Access to Justice Revisited,” which examined creative ways in which debtor’s counsel could be ethically paid.  Jon moderated and John Bollinger was a member of the panel.  There was a lot of audience participation.  Jon also moderated a mock trial relating to dischargeability under Section 523(a)(6) and hilariously appeared as the brassy debtor witness. It played to a packed house. Beth Stephens was a member of the “Consumer Update” panel moderated by Eugene Wedoff.

David Cox is our Newsletter Editor. The Consumer Newsletter has articles on a variety of topics, including parking tickets in Chicago, duties of the chapter 7 debtor under § 521(a), and recent circuit decisions of note. We are always accepting original articles for the committee newsletter. If you are interested in writing an article on a particular issue you find to be of regional or national interest, please contact David.

Heather Giannino, our Communications Manager, heads up our Listserv, which is always active. While Heather periodically posts cases or issues of interest, we encourage everyone to make use of the Listserve. The Listserve is also an excellent source for referrals when you need out-of-state counsel.

In addition to their work on the Collier Consumer Bankruptcy Case Update you receive weekly via email, our Special Projects Leaders Deb Miller and John Bollinger are busy organizing a webinar regarding, among other things, the surprising increase in bankruptcy filings among older adults.

We always need new members. So how do you get involved? To join, simply go to the ABI website’s Committees tab toward the bottom of your profile page. Then click the edit button to select from the list of committees, and save your choices. Chris Hawkins, our Membership Relations Director, will be in touch.

Star-Cross’d: The Tragedy of Chapter 13 and the Modern Student Loan Debtor
Caleb Chaplain
Caleb Chaplain
United States Bankruptcy Court (W.D. Va.)
Harrisonburg, VA
Student loan debt is (mostly) presumed nondischargeable under § 523(a)(8). Hardship discharge of such debt has become a vanishingly probable outcome. And yet, while educational costs soar along with the accompanying debt, the chapter 13 debt limits under § 109 chug along at the rate of growth reflective of the Consumer Price Index without distinction for the nature of the unsecured debt or its potential dischargeability.

Assuredly, the unsettling balances and high interest rates of many student loans play a part in bringing to bankruptcy the debtor saddled with student loans. But alas, a consumer debtor, who would otherwise be a perfect fit for chapter 13, is effectively barred from proceeding as a chapter 13 debtor if he has acquired too much student loan debt in pursuing an education so that his nondischargeable debt exceeds the unsecured debt limits.

Willful Tax Evasion and a Tale of Two Spouses
David Cox
David Cox
Cox Law Group, PLLC
Lynchburg, VA
The Bankruptcy Code contemplates the filing of a joint petition to commence a bankruptcy case for a married couple under § 302(a). Such spouses enjoy the benefit of a single filing fee and the convenience and cost savings of the joint administration of their case for everything from using a single docket for the two estates, compiling the filed claims against both estates and the combining of notices to each of their creditors.

Typically, joint debtor-spouses might each expect the same outcome from their petition as well, but that is not always the case. Even in a jointly administered case, the substantive rights of each of the debtors remain intact and can lead to dramatically different results for spouses who likely pursued the filing of a joint bankruptcy to ensure that they, together, would reap the benefits of a fresh start for their household, not to mention their marriage.

Caribbean Insolvency Symposium
2019 Annual Spring Meeting
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