Let’s say you’re having a really, really, bad week. You were injured in a car accident, the extension the contractor put on your house fell apart and now you’re suing him for breach of contract, your wife just found out about your (latest) girlfriend and has filed for divorce, and you can’t pay your creditors, so you just filed a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy. In the middle of reeling from all of this you think to yourself, when I get into bankruptcy court, is the judge going to decide the liability, breach of contract and divorce cases too?
When you file for bankruptcy, it is important to understand what matters the court will decide and what matters it won’t decide. Knowing the extent of the court’s jurisdictional authority is one reason why it is important that you hire competent bankruptcy counsel to represent you. We have offices throughout Oregon and in Washington State. Our attorneys are experienced bankruptcy attorneys and they know the law.
The Bankruptcy Court’s Jurisdiction. Core Proceedings.
Bankruptcy courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. That means that they do not hear and decide everything and anything. Congress granted bankruptcy judges jurisdiction over certain issues, which are called “core proceedings.” A bankruptcy judge’s decisional power is generally limited to bankruptcy matters.
Core proceedings are proceedings or issues that are entirely related to the bankruptcy case. The bankruptcy judge has the power to hear and decide these matters and enter judgment on them. Some examples of core proceedings are: the bankruptcy trustee’s duties, matters concerning debtor exemptions, or proceedings to determine, decide or recover fraudulent transfers. There are many more, but this should give you some idea of what the bankruptcy court will hear and decide.
Non-core proceedings are issues that arise in a bankruptcy case that are not technically bankruptcy matters. These are called “non-core proceedings.” Examples of non-core proceedings in our fact pattern above would be your divorce, the car accident and the breach of contract action against your contractor. These matters are not governed by bankruptcy law but by other state laws and they are not directly related to your bankruptcy.
However, that does not mean that the bankruptcy court cannot hear and decide issues that may be non-core proceedings yet are matters directly related to your bankruptcy. For example, in our fact pattern above, while the bankruptcy court will not decide your divorce (in other words, it won’t enter a dissolution of marriage), it may decide issues in the divorce case that are related to your bankruptcy— like division of the marital property.
If the bankruptcy judge makes a decision in a non-core proceeding, that decision cannot become a final judgment unless all parties consent. If the parties don’t consent, then the bankruptcy judge must submit proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law to the Superior or Circuit court.
We Know the Law!
If you find any of this confusing, don’t worry. We are bankruptcy attorneys with offices in Tigard, Salem, Albany, Grants Pass, Klamath Falls, Bend, and several other cities in Oregon. We also have offices in Vancouver and Tri-Cities in Washington. We offer free consultations and we can help you. To set up an appointment, call us toll free at: 1-800-682.9568.