Once you successfully complete a bankruptcy proceeding, you obtain a discharge, which is an order that releases you from liability for your debts and prohibits the creditors listed in your bankruptcy from taking further actions against you. It's important to keep a copy of your discharge documents on hand in case a creditor continues attempting to collect a discharged debt. The documentation proves the debt was discharged via the bankruptcy proceeding. If you misplace the discharge documents, you have two major avenues for obtaining copies.
What is a Bankruptcy Discharge?
Most bankruptcy cases filed by individuals have a common goal: obtaining a bankruptcy discharge. While not all debts are covered by the discharge (child support obligations, for example, or certain types of taxes), the discharge can help get rid of your liability on credit cards, medical bills and other types of unsecured personal debt. Once you've completed all the requirements for your bankruptcy case, the court will enter an order discharging your debts. That order is proof that you're no longer liable on those debts that are covered by the order.
Read More: What Happens After Bankruptcy Discharge?
Does the Discharge Wipe Out Debt?
It's important to remember that the discharge order is personal to you. If you have a cosigner or coborrower on the debt, and that person did not file bankruptcy, he is still responsible. The debt isn't gone; your liability on the debt is gone. So if you open a credit card and your sister agrees to cosign it, and you file bankruptcy, your discharge order means the credit card company can no longer try to collect that money from you, but they can collect it from your sister unless she files, too.
Why You Might Need a Copy
A discharge order might come in handy if you're trying to rebuild your credit and need to show a potential lender that you're debt free and can afford to borrow money. You might also need a copy to show a creditor who is still trying to collect from you even though the debt is discharged. Or, maybe you simply want a copy for your records.
You'll get a copy of the discharge order in the mail from the clerk. If you lose it, however, and need a copy later, you do have ways of getting one.
Try the Bankruptcy Court Clerk
You can obtain a copy of your bankruptcy discharge order by contacting the court clerk of the bankruptcy court in which you filed your case. You must pay fees to the clerk for the actual search and certification of the copies. If the discharge goes back several years and is already archived, the clerk's search may take longer and the fee can be higher. Fee schedules are available online from the bankruptcy court's website as well as at the clerk's office.
Get a Copy of your Discharge Online
You can also obtain a copy of your bankruptcy discharge document via the government-run Public Access to Electronic Court Records (PACER) website. You must register with the PACER service. Registration is free, but you'll need to pay per page for looking at documents. As of 2019, the PACER fee is 10 cents per page. If a document is more than 30 pages, you'll only be charged for 30 pages. Fortunately, the discharge order is a one-page document.
Call Your Lawyer
Your bankruptcy lawyer should be able to provide you with a copy of your discharge order upon request. Give her a call if the other options are unavailable to you or if you'd rather go the simplest route.
You can get a copy of your discharge order from the court clerk, or you can get a copy online if you register with PACER.gov.
A graduate of New York University, Jane Meggitt writes regularly for various legal blogs. Her work has appeared in LegalZoom, USA Today and many other publications.