In the United States, a debtor must file for bankruptcy in a federal court. The person, couple or company that files the petition is the debtor; the parties to which they owe money are their creditors.
States pass laws regarding exemptions from bankruptcy, which are certain properties that a debtor can protect in a bankruptcy case. Yet for the most part, bankruptcy law is federal law.
Filing the Correct Florida Bankruptcy Process
The first thing a person who wants to file for bankruptcy in Florida should do is to decide the chapter under which to file. Chapter 7, or liquidation bankruptcy, is available to individuals, married couples and companies.
Chapter 11, or reorganization bankruptcy, is also available to individuals, married couples and companies. Chapter 13, or wage earner’s plan, is available to individuals and married couples.
Locations of Bankruptcy Courts in Florida
Florida has three bankruptcy court districts: the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Middle District of Florida, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for Northern District of Florida and the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Florida. Each bankruptcy court has several sites.
A debtor should file for bankruptcy in the district where they live. If the debtor is a company, they should file where the company is headquartered.
Middle District of Florida
Northern District of Florida
Southern District of Florida
West Palm Beach
Which Type Fits You?
A debtor should file a bankruptcy petition under Chapter 7 if they want to sell their assets to satisfy their debts. If they have a business, filing Chapter 7 will shutter the business.
A debtor should file under Chapter 11 if they have a business that they want to keep open during the life of the bankruptcy case. The business will remain open as they develop a repayment plan and pay off their debts.
A debtor should file under Chapter 13 if they have a regular, stable income. They will be ordered to make payments to their creditors for three to five years.
Appropriate for individuals, married couples and businesses
Appropriate for individuals, married couples and businesses
Appropriate for individuals and married couples
Takes between 4 and 6 months
Takes between 6 months and 2 years
Takes between 3 years and 5 years
The debtor's nonexempt assets are sold. The proceeds are used to satisfy their debts.
The debtor keeps control of their business or estate. They come up with a plan to repay their debt.
The debtor shows they have a stable income. They develop a plan to make regular payments on their debt.
No minimum or maximum amount of debt disqualifies a debtor.
No minimum or maximum amount of debt disqualifies a debtor.
No minimum amount of debt disqualifies a debtor. For cases filed April 1, 2022 and after, the limits are $1,395,875 for secured debt and $465,275 for unsecured debt. For cases filed before 4/1/22, the limits were $1,257,850 for secured debt and $419,275 for unsecured debt.
How Bankruptcy Works in Florida
The general process of filing for bankruptcy in Florida involves steps that are the same for filing for bankruptcy in any U.S. bankruptcy court. The process follows the same order in all three districts of Florida, and the basic process is common to all chapters of bankruptcy. The steps, in order, are:
- Hire an attorney. It is not required that a debtor hire an attorney, but it is highly recommended.
- Complete credit counseling from a government-approved organization within 180 days before filing.
- File the petition with the court and pay the filing fee. The filing fees are the same in the Middle District of Florida, the Northern District of Florida and the Southern District of Florida. They are $338 for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy; $1,738 for a non-railroad Chapter 11 bankruptcy; and $313 for a Chapter 13 bankruptcy.
- Attend the "341 meeting" of creditors.
- Finish a post-filing debtor education course. The debtor may not finish the course at the same time as credit counseling.
- The court will issue an order to discharge the debt.
- The court will close the case.
The appropriate forms for filing a bankruptcy case are found on the U.S. Courts’ bankruptcy forms website.
What Happens After Bankruptcy Proceedings?
After the court closes a bankruptcy case under any chapter, a person, a married couple or a company’s creditors can no longer collect on discharged debts. Creditors can still collect on undischarged debts.
The debtor should begin working to rebuild their credit score. Usually, this involves making regular timely payments to creditors. Chapter 7 and Chapter 11 bankruptcies stay on a debtor’s credit report for up to 10 years after the case is filed.
A Chapter 13 bankruptcy remains on a debtor’s credit report for up to seven years after the date of filing.
Florida Bankruptcy Exemptions
Bankruptcy exemptions are laws that protect personal and real property in bankruptcy. In Florida, a debtor must use Florida state exemptions. They cannot choose between the federal exemptions and the Florida exemptions unless they do not meet Florida’s requirements for state exemptions.
For example, in order to claim the Florida homestead exemption, the party must have owned the property for at least 1,215 days (approximately three years and 4 months) before claiming the exemption. If they cannot meet this requirement, they can claim the federal homestead exemption instead.
A debtor who uses Florida state exemptions can also use the federal non-bankruptcy exemptions. The "wildcard" exemption protects property that is not protected under other exemptions. Exemptions not listed in the table below include public benefit and insurance exemptions.
Florida State Exemptions
Up to $27,900 of equity in a home if filing singly and up to $55,800 if filing jointly as a married couple.
An unlimited amount in the home or other property, if the property is not larger than half an acre in a municipality and 160 acres outside a municipality. The party claiming the exemption must have owned the property for at least 1,215 days (approximately 3 years and 4 months) before claiming this exemption. If the property owner cannot meet the time requirement, they can claim the federal homestead exemption.
$700 per item and $14,875 total. This category includes appliances, books, clothes, furnishings and household goods. $1,875 for jewelry alone.
$1,000 if filing singly and $2,000 if filing jointly as a married couple. If no homestead is claimed, the exemption rises to $4,000. Covered items include art, electronics and furniture.
Tools of the Trade
Florida has no specific tools of the trade exemption. Tools of the trade are considered items of personal property and fall under that exemption.
$1,475, plus $13,950 of any unused portion of the debtor's homestead exemption
Up to $4,000 if filing singly and up to $8,000 if filing jointly as a married couple
Qualifying for Bankruptcy Discharge in Florida
A debtor can file under Chapter 7 or Chapter 11 bankruptcy if they are an individual, a married couple or a company. There are no minimum or maximum amounts of debt needed to qualify under these chapters. A debtor qualifies for Chapter 13 bankruptcy if they are an individual or a married couple.
There is no minimum amount of debt needed to qualify under Chapter 13. For cases filed April 1, 2022, and later, a debtor qualifies by having up to $1,395,875 for secured debt and up to $465,275 for unsecured debt. For cases filed prior to April 1, 2022, a debtor qualifies by having up to $1,257,850 for secured debt and up to $419,275 for unsecured debt.
Secured debt is debt backed by collateral, meaning personal or real property worth the amount of the debt. Unsecured debt is not backed by collateral. A court can disqualify a debtor if the debtor chooses to not answer questions or fails to follow orders of the court, such as making payments according to their payment plan. A court disqualifies the debtor by dismissing their bankruptcy case.
Finding a Bankruptcy Law Firm
A debtor can find a bankruptcy lawyer in their area by performing a search online or in telephone directories for bankruptcy attorneys. Alternatively, they can utilize the Florida State Bar’s Lawyer Referral Service by calling 800-342-8011 Monday through Friday between 8:00 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. or by submitting an online request to the Online Referral Service for service 24/7.
After receiving the name of an attorney, the potential client meets for an initial consultation or speaks to the lawyer by phone. The cost for an in-person or telephone meeting varies according to the lawyer’s experience, practice area and geographic location.
A debtor may also find a bankruptcy attorney with a local bar association such as the Dade County Bar Association by calling 305-371-2646 or emailing staff at LRS@dadecountybar.org. The cost is $50 for a consultation of up to half an hour. This service includes a second referral to an additional attorney at no extra cost.
Specific Answers About Homestead Exemption
Florida has one of the most generous homestead exemptions in the country. Since many people move to Florida to retire, they may have questions about how this exemption changes after certain events such as divorce, death or a move.
The answers to these questions can be found in pop-ups at the Florida Department of Revenue’s Frequently Asked Questions page. Each pop-up opens one at a time.
Trusts and Life Estates
A property owner who puts a home into a trust or a life estate will not necessarily lose their homestead exemption. If the person filing for the homestead exemption has legal title or beneficial title to the property and is entitled to the use and occupancy of the property under the terms of the trust, they have sufficient title to claim the homestead exemption. (Beneficial title means the person may not be on record with the county records office, yet that have the right to use and occupy the property.)
A person can contact their property appraiser to determine what type of title they have and whether the property owner can continue to claim the homestead exemption.
Exceptions Due to Death or Moving
If a property owner dies, the property will not get the homestead exemption in the year following their death. If the property owner was married, the property will continue to receive the homestead exemption in the surviving spouse’s name.
If an individual or married couple moves, they cannot transfer their homestead exemption when they move from a previous Florida homestead to a new Florida homestead, but they may be able to transfer all or part of their homestead assessment difference.
FAQs About Bankruptcy in Florida
What is the income eligibility limit for filing Chapter 7 in Florida?
There is no minimum or maximum income limit to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Florida.
What is the average cost for bankruptcy in Florida?
This depends on the chapter of bankruptcy under which the debtor files and whether the debtor is an individual, a married couple or a company. The basic cost to file a bankruptcy case in Florida is $338 for Chapter 7; $1,738 for Chapter 11; and $313 for Chapter 13.
There can be additional costs associated with filing under any chapter, including hiring a bankruptcy attorney, converting a case from one chapter of bankruptcy to another (such as conversion of a Chapter 11 case to a Chapter 7 case), and filing a motion, such as amending a debtor’s schedule of creditors.
The hourly rate for a bankruptcy attorney in Florida ranges between $200 and $1,500, depending on the attorney’s experience, specialization area (personal or corporate bankruptcy), geographic location and the details of the particular case. An attorney will usually charge more for a case that involves challenges from creditors.
Is it hard to file bankruptcy in Florida?
It is difficult to file for bankruptcy in any state. That is why U.S. courts recommend that a debtor hire an attorney and seek legal advice. It is not substantially more difficult to file in Florida than in any other state.
How long does bankruptcy last in Florida?
A bankruptcy case remains open in Florida bankruptcy court for the same length of time as in a bankruptcy court in another state. The details of each case vary, so this means that the time periods for the length of the case can differ as well.
A Chapter 7 case usually takes between four and six months, a Chapter 11 case between six months and two years, and a Chapter 13 case between three and five years.
- U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Southern District of Florida: Homepage
- U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Northern District of Florida: Homepage
- U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Middle District of Florida: Homepage
- U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Northern District of Florida: Filing Fees and Miscellaneous Fees
- U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Middle District of Florida: Filing and miscellaneous fees
- U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Southern District of Florida: Clerk's Summary of Fees
- Florida Bar: Lawyer Referral Service
- Dade County Bar Association: Lawyer Referral Service
- U.S. Courts: Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Basics
- U.S. Courts: Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Basics
- U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Middle District of Florida: Locations
- Federal Trade Commission: Filing for Bankruptcy
- 11 U.S. Code 522: Exemptions
- Florida Department of Revenue: Frequently Asked Questions
- 2022 Florida Statutes: Section 222.01 Designation of Homestead by Owner Before Levy
- 2022 Florida Statutes: Section 222.20 Nonavailability of Federal Bankruptcy Exemptions
- 2022 Florida Statutes: Section 222.201 Availability of Federal Bankruptcy Exemptions
- 2022 Florida Statutes: Section 222.25 Other Individual Property of Natural Persons Exempt From Legal Process
- 2022 Florida Constitution: Article 10, Section 4 Homestead Exemption
- Florida State Bar: Online Referral Service
Jessica Zimmer is a journalist and attorney based in northern California. She has practiced in a wide variety of fields, including criminal defense, property law, immigration, employment law, and family law.