August 25, 2020

How Long Will A Bankruptcy Filing Stay On My Credit Report

It’s perhaps the most asked question by a debtor when they are considering filing for bankruptcy. An item on your credit score can be scary. How long does the filing stay on your report? Will you be able to borrow money after filing? How will you be able to rebuild your credit afterward?

In this blog post, we go over these questions, how bankruptcy affects your credit score, and how you can rebuild it. 

The Essentials of Bankruptcy in Virginia

When you file for bankruptcy, it means you are unable to pay on some or all of the debts you owe.

The two most popular types of bankruptcy filings are Chapter 7 liquidation and Chapter 13 wage earner’s plan for debtors. Which chapter you file under will depend on your income and if you hold the ability to pay a portion of the accrued debts or not. The Chapter to file under will also depend on whether you have too much property that may not be protected within a Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

The bankruptcy chapter you file under will determine how long a bankruptcy filing stays on your credit report. Typically, that’s either 7 or 10 years.

What is a Credit Report?

A credit report is what loaners, banks, and other lenders use to determine if a person is able to pay their debts on time. When it comes to getting loans like a mortgage, car loans or a credit card, a credit score report is the first thing creditors examine. 

The higher your credit score, the more likely you are to be approved for a loan at a lower interest rate than if you had a lower credit score. 

Filing for any bankruptcy will affect your credit score, but it doesn’t make it impossible to rebuild your credit.  

How Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Affects My Credit in Virginia

If you are filing for Chapter 7 liquidation, it means you have a very limited income and are unable to pay on your debts. Liquidation bankruptcy can sell your nonexempt assets to creditors to help pay off a portion and then wipes your financial slate clean. The filing process for this chapter will usually take between 3-5 months. 

Usually, these filers have their unsecured debt (debt without collateral) discharged and no payment is required. 

If you’re filing for this chapter, then you will have the filing on your credit report for 10 years.

A Chapter 7 filing will stay on your credit score longer than any other bankruptcy filing because most or all of the debt is unpaid for and no repayment plan is required.

How Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Affects My Credit

Unlike Chapter 7 bankruptcy, Chapter 13 requires a 3-5 year repayment plan after filing. 

Also known as wage earner’s plan, this chapter is for those who have a consistent income. The repayment plan of this chapter works to pay off part or all of unsecured debts (credit cards, medical bills, etc.) and can pay past due payments on secured debts like car or house payments. 

Because there is some sort of repayment of debts involved in this chapter, the filing stays on your report for a shorter amount of time than Chapter 7. 

Chapter 13 bankruptcy will stay on your credit report for 7 years.    

For both of these chapters, the time that a filing is on your credit report begins immediately when you file. 

This means by the time your repayment plan for Chapter 13 is completed, you will be nearly halfway to not having the filing on your credit. While the filing is on your credit report, you may still be able to borrow and be approved for loans. 

However, the interest rates of these loans will be substantially higher than they would otherwise.

Rebuilding My Credit After Filing for Bankruptcy 

Rebuilding your credit after filing for bankruptcy may seem impossible, but it’s not.

Most of the time, chapters of bankruptcy require some sort of credit card counseling and financial help courses for debtors. This is to help the debtor become more aware of the proper ways to handle their finances. 

On the same coin, for either chapter, a filer will have 7-10 years to rebuild their credit and begin a solid payment history. 

In many cases, in order to rebuild your credit after bankruptcy, you need to obtain, use, and timely pay your debts.  For example, after your bankruptcy is complete, you can obtain a credit card with a very small limit.  You should only use the credit card for a necessity like groceries or gas that you would otherwise pay cash for.  And each month you pay off that credit card.  Over time your credit limit can increase which is one factor credit agencies use to determine your credit score. 

Finding the Right Bankruptcy Lawyer

Sometimes bankruptcy is the best option to go with if you’re dealing with debt that seems unbearable and never-ending.

The bankruptcy lawyers at Cravens & Noll, P.C. have years of experience in dealing with cases and are ready to fight for your needs. 

Any questions about bankruptcy, which chapter to file for, or how to rebuild credit? Give us a call today!

August 20, 2020

What Is Bankruptcy

Bankruptcy. It’s a word that can be terrifying, especially when you aren’t familiar with the process, the chapters to file for, the potential consequences or if you don’t know any qualified lawyers.

The lawyers at Cravens & Noll have years of experience dealing with bankruptcy cases and are here to make the process as seamless as possible.

 To get started, it’s important to know what exactly bankruptcy is. 

Essentially, bankruptcy is the legal process an individual or entity undergoes when they don’t have the financial means to pay on the debts they owe. These debts can range from secured to unsecured. When a debtor files for bankruptcy, depending on which chapter they file for, they will be relieved of most or all of their debts.

Bankruptcy can help people get back on their feet and allow them to start anew, financially. After a successful bankruptcy filing, you get an automatic stay on your account, meaning that creditors are prevented from collecting.

Knowing what type of chapters are best suited to you is one of the first steps to take in a bankruptcy filing. 

The Chapters of Bankruptcy

The most common types of bankruptcy that debtors file under are Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Chapter 7 is also known as liquidation while Chapter 13 is regarded as Wage Earner’s Plan.

Typically, debtors decide which one to file under depending on their state exemptions and their total household income, as well as their interest in any property that may have equity (value minus any loans for the property).

With each chapter, there are a number of advantages and, of course, some disadvantages. While each chapter filing will affect your credit, most of the time it is far more advantageous for debtors to claim bankruptcy than to continue making payments that they don’t have the money for.   

Chapter 7

Liquidation refers to the bankruptcy chapter where debtors resell their assets to pay off their debts. This chapter deals with secured and unsecured debt and is the quickest way to relieve you of your debts. For those with very limited incomes, Chapter 7 usually takes 3-5 months and will use the money obtained from property resale to pay off creditors. 

Chapter 13

Wage Earner’s Plan is the chapter of bankruptcy reserved for those who are in debt but still make enough of an income to reorganize their payments to creditors. Chapter 13 uses a 3-5 year plan to pay creditors the amount owed to them. As with Chapter 7, this chapter helps to clear a debtor of their secured and unsecured debts. 

When to File for Bankruptcy

There are a few telltale signs that indicate it may be time to consider filing for bankruptcy. We have compiled a short checklist to determine if bankruptcy may be the best option for you and your family. 

  • You’re behind on bills and debt collectors keep calling
  • You’re using loans to pay bills
  • Your home is at risk of foreclosure
  • Your credit card is your primary source of payment

Contact Us Today

Bankruptcy cases are always different and the needs of each debtor vary. The best way to ensure a positive outcome with a filing is to get connected with experienced bankruptcy lawyers. The lawyers at Cravens & Noll have years of experience with thousands of cases handled. Give us a call today to discuss your financial options and whether bankruptcy is the best route for your financial future. 

August 18, 2020

What Are My Rights If I Have Full Custody

Legal custody is your right to make major decisions for your child. The decisions usually covered under the umbrella of custody include big life choices for your child such as religion, education, and healthcare choices. With legal custody over your children, you can make choices that have a big impact on their future.

Virginia law dictates that courts should assure, where appropriate, that both parents maintain contact with their children and play an active role in raising them. This means the courts will always favor a joint legal custody arrangement. Legal custody is shared between both parents so they can both raise their children.

However, every situation is unique and not every parent can have full custody over their children. In rare instances, the court will recommend sole custody for one of the parents.

To acquire sole custody in Virginia, your family lawyer needs to persuade the court that the other parent is unable to care for the child or poses a risk to them.

If you are at the point where you think that this step is necessary, it could be helpful to know what your rights are if you do have sole custody.

Differences in Types of Custody

As we’ve covered in a previous article about how custody is determined, there is a difference between legal custody and physical custody.

Legal custody is a parent’s ability to make important decisions for a minor. These include educational matters, medical issues, and the general welfare of the child.

Physical custody determines where the child primarily lives and how often a parent gets to spend time with them.

My Rights with Sole Legal Custody

If you have sole legal custody over your children, you can make all major decisions about them without consulting the other parent.

Sole legal custody may be right for your situation if:

  • Sole legal custody benefits the child
  • The other parent is unfit to make legal decisions about your child
  • It’s more practical for only one of the parents to make decisions for the child

With sole legal custody, you have the decision-making rights for your child. You’ll get to decide who sees the child. You also make decisions about visitation rights for the other parent where you decide the length of time the other parent can spend with your children. You can enroll your child in a school of your choosing and take them for medical treatment where you choose.

Start the Conversation

For additional details about your rights when you have full custody, talk to a family lawyer in Virginia. Cravens & Noll is available by phone at 804-208-0934 to set up an appointment when you can discuss your situation further.

August 11, 2020

How Does the Court Determine the Value of Life in Wrongful Death Lawsuits?

A death caused by another person’s or company’s negligence is a tragedy. There is no real way to compensate for the loss of a loved one, but many families affected by an accidental death will make a wrongful death claim or file a lawsuit to compensate those left behind.

A wrongful death lawsuit is where families of victims of an accidental death file a claim to receive money damages. They file the suit against the person or entity whose negligence caused the death. These deaths are usually caused by a car accident, medical malpractice from a professional, or a dangerous product.

The difficult part of a wrongful death lawsuit is establishing the monetary value of a person’s life. There are common factors used by lawyers and the court to arrive at an amount that the defendant will be ordered to pay to the deceased’s relatives and estate. No amount of money will replace lost loved ones, but damage awards may well pay for homes, cars, living expenses and college for children.

Economic Damages

The attorney will usually start by determining the economic impact of a deceased’s life on his family’s financial future. value of the deceased. Specifically, they’ll look for damages and losses tied to those who passed. This can be affected by a number of factors:

  • The deceased’s earning capacity
  • Income at the time of death
  • Value of lost benefits
  • Number and ages of dependents
  • Their level of education
  • Medical and funeral expenses

These costs vary from person to person. A single 20-year-old restaurant cook with a GED will most likely have less economic assets and expenses than a married 44-year-old surgeon with three under-aged children.

These economic factors have to be supported with compelling evidence in order to reach the most accurate monetary settlement. Usually, personal injury lawyers work with economists to determine these values. This ensures that the victim’s family will receive adequate compensation for their economic damage. Bear in mind however, that the economic earnings are but one component of the overall recovery.

Emotional Damages

Along with the more numerically quantifiable economic damages, the attorney also looks at the emotional component of damages caused by the victim’s death. These can include:

  • The emotional trauma of the family caused by the death
  • The victim’s pain and suffering experienced before death
  • Loss of a pillar of the family

These damages do not have any standard value since they are subjective. This is where an incredibly experienced trial lawyer can help you document and convey to a judge or jury the extent of emotional harm caused by the victim’s death, and the toll this loss has taken on the family.

If taken to a jury trial, your lawyer will have to argue on behalf of the deceased. They will need to show the positive effect the victim had on the lives of others and show how the loss has affected their family and friends, the community at large, and the worth of this life beyond monetary impact. This requires great skill, effective and emotional case presentation that impacts the tries of fact.

Specific Wrongful Death Claims in Virginia

Similar to many other court hearings, Virginia has specific laws in place for determining compensation in a wrongful death lawsuit.

For one, Virginia has a damage cap for medical malpractice cases. If a member of your family suffers a death due to medical negligence, then you are allowed up to $2.25 million in compensation.

Choosing The Right Attorney

When deciding to file a wrongful death claim, it’s important to consult with an attorney beforehand.

An experienced lawyer with a proven track record of million-dollar results is essential. They can take you through your options to make sure you and your family receive full compensation for your loss.

They’ll be with you during every step of the lawsuit, making sure you understand the process and providing the most relevant and helpful information. Once in court, they will fight for your compensation and make sure your family is taken care of financially. Nothing can replace a loved one, but an experienced attorney can help ease your burden so you can focus on healing and putting the pieces of your life back together.

At Cravens & Noll, we believe in giving grieving families the compensation and closure they deserve. We’ll work with your unique situation and fight for your rights in court. We will fight the good fight. We will help you WIN your battle.

If you’ve lost a loved one due to a preventable accident, please schedule a consultation with us as soon as possible. It may be the best decision you will ever make.

August 7, 2020

How Do I Know What Type of Family Law Attorney I Need?

When you think of family law, what kind of cases do you think this covers? Divorce? Child custody?

Family Law covers a fairly wide net of legal issues revolving around familial disputes. While divorce and child custody cases are the most common in Richmond, this branch of the law also includes adoption, marriage contracts and guardianships.

Because family law is so diverse, you need to make sure you pick the right attorney for your case. In this blog post, we’ll explain why certain cases require specialized attorneys and the skills necessary to help you and your family.

1.   Divorce Attorney

Going through a divorce can be a painful and stressful time. That’s why it’s important to have a lawyer who specializes in the field.

A good divorce lawyer is someone who fights for the best interests of yourself and your family. They have a deep understanding of marriage contracts and how to best navigate the court proceedings. Divorce can include the issues of property, retirement, spousal support, as well as child custody and child support.

You should also feel comfortable with your divorce lawyer. They will be a close confidant during the case and you need to be able to tell them personal details about your life and marriage.

2.   Child Custody Attorney

Similar to a divorce lawyer, a child custody attorney fights for what’s best for your child and the family. They help develop a parenting plan that is in the child’s best interest and works to resolve any disputes between the parents. Custody lawyers deal with issues of where the child primarily lives, visitation issues, as well as child support.

Usually, your divorce lawyer will also cover your child custody case. Because of this, it’s even more important to choose a lawyer that you are comfortable with. They need to be able to speak with and understand your children while being respectful towards them.

3.   Marriage and Civil Union Attorney

Marriage is well known for its beautiful outfits and romantic displays. What is less well known are the legal contracts tied to the ceremony.

When you are married, you are creating a contract between yourself, your spouse and the state. This contract determines your joint ownership of both your property and your debts. Marriage also offers you federal protections. An attorney can work with you on a pre-marital agreement, also known as a pre-nuptial agreement.  The attorney can also work with you after the marriage starts with a post-marital agreement.  These two agreements involve how separate and joint property will be handled in the event of a divorce, as well as other financial issues like spousal support.

A civil union, on the other hand, is a legal relationship that does not offer federal protections and isn’t recognized by every state including Virginia.

This is where a marriage attorney comes in handy.

An attorney can help you and your spouse reach an agreement on these contracts. You both can make sure you understand your division of property before the marriage, during the marriage, and, in the unfortunate event of a divorce, after the marriage.

4.   Domestic and Child Abuse Attorney

Domestic and child abuse is not to be taken lightly, which is why you need a lawyer who knows how to navigate these sensitive cases. While these issues can be a part of divorce or custody cases, abuse is an entirely separate issue that can be decided and defended in court.

Whether you’re trying to escape an abusive situation or being falsely accused of abuse, you need a qualified attorney on your side. An attorney can help you file a restraining order known as an Order of Protection to help ensure you or your child’s safety.

5.   Adoption and Guardianship Attorney

If you’re trying to adopt or put a child up for adoption, there are some legal barriers you have to understand. These include legal documentation and finding the right adoption agency.

These proceedings can become more complex when dealing with guardianship. For instance, guardianship cases become more difficult to navigate if you’re a guardian for someone with developmental issues. If the person is an adult or under another person’s guardianship, there are additional steps to take.

In both cases, it’s important to have an attorney with years of experience on your side to help you navigate through the legal proceedings. From signing the proper documents to understanding how to argue in court, a lawyer is helpful every step of this process.

Find Your Family Attorneys at Cravens & Noll

It’s important to find a family law lawyer that meets your specific needs, but those needs can go beyond the court. Your lawyer should be easy to talk to and one who can explain the legal side of cases to you. You should feel comfortable speaking to them about sensitive issues, especially in cases of divorce or abuse.

You need a lawyer who is reliable and responsible, someone who will be there to answer all your questions and help you when needed.

Cravens & Noll attorneys have decades of experience in Virginia family law and always put their client’s interests first. If you’re in need of a family attorney in Richmond and surrounding areas, schedule a consultation with us.

August 5, 2020

What Is My Personal Injury Case Worth

Many factors influence the value of a personal injury case. While it is impossible to know for sure how much money you may receive, there are a few primary factors that heavily influence the settlement total. Those factors include:

Damages: (Injury, medical bills, lost wages, future damages, permanency)

Liability: (Fault for the accident)

Insurance Coverage: (Yours & the other drivers)

The Lawyer You Hire

The vast majority of cases will be settled out of court. Only about 4% of cases will go to trial. It is impossible to predict how the jury will rule if your case does go to trial. There are some general patterns that we have seen which tend to influence the final payout of a claim, by the insurance company or a jury. You need top-flight legal expertise and counsel to get maximum recovery:

Total Damages

The nature and severity of the injuries make a huge difference in how much money is awarded in a PI claim. You can expect a higher settlement amount when there are significant or disabling injuries or death. The more significant your injuries, the greater your medical expenses, lost wages and lost future earning capacity.

Virginia personal injury law is our pond. We have the experience to help you get the care you need and the monetary recovery to help make you whole and fully compensated.


Who was at fault? In the state of Virginia, you can only collect from the insurance company if you are not at fault in the accident. If you are partially at fault in an accident, even 1%, you will not be able to recover from the insurance carrier. This is called “contributory negligence”. If liability is at all questioned, you need an experienced lawyer.

After an accident, the insurance companies may want to take a recorded statement from you. If you agree to give a recorded statement, the insurance company may try to get you to admit things about the accident. Adjusters are trained to get you to make what appear to be minor or erroneous admissions that seem small at the time, but that their lawyers will exploit in the future.

Insurance Coverage

The amount of insurance coverage that is available for your claim will make a substantial difference in larger injury settlements. If you collided with a corporate company vehicle that caused your accident, it is very likely the business has extensive insurance coverage to cover large insurance claims. If the driver of the other car has substantial insurance and they caused the accident, then you have a greater likelihood of a greater recovery.

Unfortunately, many people do not have more than the statutory minimum $25,000 insurance policy because it costs so much. In these instances, the payout you receive will be limited to the insurance policy, if they have coverage. If the other driver causes an accident and doesn’t have coverage, you may not be able to recover any damages at all, unless you have your own policy.

Big corporations often have bigger insurance coverage policies, but you cannot recover more in damages just because the driver is well-insured. A larger insurance policy does not mean you will get more money unless the mediators or court decides you are entitled to a larger financial settlement. Your case value will be determined by how well your attorney educates the jury about the extent of your injury and damage.

Learn How Much Your Case Is Really Worth

Factors that influence the amount of the final award or settlement in your case are multiple, and assessing the realistic value of cases is best left to the counsel of attorneys who have recovered millions and done thousands of cases.

The experienced PI lawyers at Cravens & Noll, P.C. can review all of the details and facts surrounding your case and provide you a real-time assessment of the potential value of your case.

Do Not Delay

One factor that can make a difference is time. With each passing day, the memories fade, the evidence is lost, and the stories evolve. Waiting to get legal representation could prove to be not only detrimental to your case, but the costliest decision you have ever made. If you want the most, hire the best.

Call Cravens & Noll, P.C. at one of their four locations today to begin the investigation and evaluation of your personal injury settlement.

June 8, 2020

Steps to Take After an Auto Accident

Statistics show most people will be in at least one auto accident by the time a driver is in their mid 30s. They also show there are six million accidents in the USA every year. Of these accidents, roughly 1 in 3 involve personal injuries. A small percentage of these accidents result in fatalities.

Hopefully, you will not be involved in an auto accident, but if you are, here are the steps to take after your accident.

1. Assess your Health and Injuries

Immediately following the accident, your health and safety should be your first consideration. Have you been injured? If so, this is your first priority.

If you have other passengers in the car with you, this is the moment to come together and help each other. Ask them if they are okay. Care for all of the passengers in your car before doing anything else.

2. Be safe

In Virginia, you are not supposed to move your cars after being in an accident before the police arrive. Carry flares or cones with you in the car, and put these out to alert other drivers of the danger ahead. Turn on your flashers if you find yourself in an accident of some sort.

3. Call the police

As soon as possible, call the police. Don’t assume the drivers or passengers in the other vehicle will call. You don’t know the intentions of the other people, or if they may be injured. The police will give you the information from the other driver so you can file a claim with their insurance company.

4. Write down your statement to the police

Think about what happened in the accident. Write down all of the facts of your accident as best you can remember. Even if you think you might be at fault for the accident, it is not for you to decide.

Do not admit fault even if you think it may have been your fault. The police officer will collect the facts of the accident at the scene to make determinations about who is guilty. If you believe you are not guilty and still get a ticket, you will still have the opportunity to plead your case with the judge in court.

5. Take Photos If Possible

It is a great idea to take photos after the accident. One of the biggest mistakes people make is to only take photos of the damaged vehicles. It is better to take as many photos as possible.

You may have to do this inconspicuously, but take photos of every individual involved. If there is a family in the other car, take note of the number of passengers there. Take pictures of the intersection where the accident occurred. If blinding sunlight or other weather conditions played a role, take a photo of these too.

The goal is to gather as much evidence as possible for the accident attorney who may be reviewing your case.

6. File a Claim With the Insurance Company

Your insurance company expects you to file a claim for your auto accident. If you know the other driver was at fault, you should contact the other driver’s insurance company first before getting your company involved. If the other driver is at fault and doesn’t have insurance, you may have coverage under your own policy’s uninsured motorist coverage.

7. Hire an Attorney and Protect Your Rights

Remember, the insurance company is always looking out for themselves first, and they will try to pay out as little as possible. This is why you need legal representation in an automobile accident.

Cravens & Noll has decades of experience in dealing with insurance companies. We know the strategies they use to try to minimize their losses, and this is where we can help.

Contact our offices today in Richmond or Harrisonburg to speak to one of our representatives and protect your legal rights after your auto accident.

June 4, 2020

Can Immigrants Sue for Personal Injury Damages?

When immigrants are involved in personal injury cases, they have the right to sue liable parties for injuries and damages just as an American citizen may. Qualified attorneys have the experience needed to navigate the unique challenges facing documented and undocumented immigrants in civil lawsuits. Many immigrants in Virginia have had success winning judgments against people who caused harm to them. Do not be afraid. We will help you receive just compensation. 

Documented Immigrants

The Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution gives documented immigrants the right to work, live in the United States, and serve in the armed forces. These rights also include the ability to sue citizens and other immigrants just like US citizens. State and federal courts have consistently maintained these rights throughout the country. If you are in an auto accident as an immigrant, you can pursue liable parties for your injuries and damages if they are found guilty. 

Undocumented Immigrants

The laws for undocumented immigrants are different from state and state. In many states, it does not make any difference if you are a legal immigrant. The federal government has left it up to the states to decide how to manage cases involving undocumented citizens. 

Fortunately, the Virginia Supreme Court has already ruled on this issue. Illegal immigrants hold the same rights as legal immigrants and can pursue lawsuits regarding personal injury matters. An immigrant’s immigration status will not be considered when these cases process through the court system.

There are some states where the courts do not provide the same legal protections to undocumented immigrants. The jurisdiction is determined by where the accident occurred and is not influenced by the home states of the parties involved in the lawsuit.

Other Damages

There has been some confusion about medical costs that can be recovered in legal lawsuits. Not only can an individual recover their property and medical expenses, but the insurance company can recover other damages too. If you are still in the midst of treatment with an unknown end date, you can recover damages as long as it takes for you to recover from your injuries. 

Many people sue for lost wages. You could also potentially sue for other damages in more serious lawsuits. Pain and suffering are often recovered in these cases. Permanent disfigurement and other issues could continue for many years, leaving your life permanently changed. If you are suffering from permanent disability, you could claim for diminished future earning capacity. If you are in a position where you can never work again, there are many issues you will want to address with an attorney.

After an accident, the court system tries to make you “whole” again so you can return to normal health when possible without experiencing significant financial hardship. 

Get In Touch With An Attorney

Trying to work with an insurance company without legal representation is risky in many incidents. It is their goal to pay out as little as possible for your insurance claim, but an experienced attorney has the knowledge to make sure you receive the most favorable outcome. 

Cravens & Noll has 30 years of experience helping immigrants recover from their personal injury cases. Contact us today to find out how we can help navigate this difficult season of life.

May 28, 2020

What to Look for in a Child Custody Lawyer

Divorce cases are nothing short of stressful. While sorting through the assets between yourself and your spouse, you also need to consider the most important assets, that is the well-being of your children and what’s best for them.

Because of how important these decisions are in a child custody case, it’s vital to find an attorney that is not only experienced and strong when in front of the judge, but also empathetic and passionate about keeping families connected. This is why we’ve created this blog to help you not only begin your search, but also help you narrow down your options to find the lawyer that’s perfect for your case and for your family.

1. Ask Around

At the beginning of your search, it can be difficult to know where to start when looking for a family law attorney. Rather than skimming through tens of hundreds of websites and articles, it’s best to begin with what you know.

Start by asking your friends and family who have been through child custody cases. Learn from their experiences and take note of what they like and didn’t like about their lawyer. If they’re local to you, make sure to get the name of their lawyer or possibly other lawyers they almost chose.

If you don’t know anyone personally that has gone through a child custody case, your county and state offer plenty of resources to find family law attorneys. You can always consult your local court clerks and the state bar association for referrals. Some courts also have a network of lawyers, so don’t be afraid to call the court directly.

2. Further Research

Once you’ve compiled a list of lawyers from these recommendations, it’s time to narrow down your options. Conduct research by looking through each lawyers’ websites and social media pages. See how they describe themselves and interact with others, and if this behavior seems appropriate to you.

It’s also a good idea to look at reviews on Google or Yelp from previous clients. While these reviews can be biased, as they’re normally posted by people who feel strongly one way or the other, try to notice trends in what people are saying or how they rate the lawyer.

Beyond online research, you should also do some digging into their background. Look through Virginia’s state bar attorney directory to see if the lawyer is in good standing or has ever had their license suspended. You can even talk with other lawyers to get their opinion on anyone you’re considering, especially if the person you’re talking to has worked in the county or state for a while.

3. Meet In-Person

After eliminating a few lawyers, it’s important to meet with your top choices in person. While an attorney may seem right for you through their website and social media, there’s no greater test than speaking with someone face-to-face.

When meeting with the attorney, make sure to look for anything that might make them a good or bad fit. Remember, you need someone who will truly work with you and your family, someone who will understand your needs so they can more effectively fight for them in court.

Pay attention to their communication skills, how they speak not only with you about the case, but also with and about your family. Your family lawyer should be able to treat your kids with the same amount of respect and understanding that you would. Most importantly, if you have a bad feeling about the lawyer, listen to it. If this person isn’t right for your family and your case, then there’s no point in hiring them and possibly wasting more money and time.

4. Ask the Right Questions

By the end of your meeting with your potential lawyer, it’s vital to understand what type of lawyer they are and if their goals line up with your own. This is why it’s important to ask the right questions and get a sense of the lawyer’s ethics and intentions when developing a case.

There are a few points you should focus on when coming up with your question. You should ask about their background and see if it lines up with your research. Find out their legal philosophy to see if you agree with their approach to law. Find out their case management skills to make sure they’ll be on top of your case.

In a similar vein, you should ask them what they think about your case, to see if they’ll be open and honest with you. And possibly most importantly, make sure to ask about their cost to make sure the attorney can fit into your budget.

If you need further help coming up with specific questions, this link has some sample questions to get you started.

5. Never Settle

No matter how much research and planning you do beforehand, you can never truly tell how good of a match a lawyer is until you actually work with them. Because of that, it’s possible that you may realize further into the case that this attorney is not right for you and your family.

Don’t be afraid to find another lawyer if your current one isn’t up to your standards. While you may have felt confident during your initial meetings, this is an important decision and you need the attorney that is right for you.

When searching for a Richmond family attorney, call Cravens and Noll for an initial consultation to make sure we are the right fit for you and your family. Our experienced team of Virginia family lawyers know the law like the back of our hands and will work with your family to get the best results from your case. Check out our family law page for more details.

May 26, 2020

Can I File Bankruptcy and Keep My Car and House

Bankruptcy can be a scary process when you do not know what property is at stake. When people file, one of their fears is that they will lose essential property such as their car or their house.

Based on state bankruptcy exemptions, the equity value of your property, homestead protection laws, and what chapter you file for, filers can have a better likelihood of keeping both their car and home during the bankruptcy process.

Depending on whether you file for Chapter 7 liquidation or Chapter 13 wage earner’s plan, will determine what you will owe, how and if you can keep your car and home.

The Difference Between Chapter 7 & Chapter 13

Firstly, it is important for filers to understand the basic differences between Chapter 7 bankruptcy and Chapter 13 bankruptcy in Virginia.

Chapter 7 is known as liquidation. Even though it is called “liquidation”, most Chapter 7 clients keep all of their property, including their car and house.  This is because of certain exemptions that protect certain property. If you have only a little equity in your car or house, you should file for this type of bankruptcy.

In Chapter 13 bankruptcy, a debtor begins to pay back their creditors through a repayment plan. These repayment plans will usually take 3-5 years. Because a filer of Chapter 13 bankruptcy has enough of an income to continue making payments on their debts, their risk of losing their property is significantly lower compared to Chapter 7 filers.

The best determinate in knowing what property you can keep during a bankruptcy filing is your state’s bankruptcy exemptions.

State Exemptions

Each state varies in their exemptions — the equity on your property that is protected against a bankruptcy trustee reselling it to pay off creditors.

Simply put, bankruptcy exemptions tell you how much of your property you get to keep.

For Chapter 7 bankruptcy, these state exemptions can protect your assets if their equity value is covered. For Chapter 13, these exemptions can help lower the payments to your creditors and lenders for your repayment plan.

Read more about the specifics on Virginia state exemptions for motor vehicles and residential property based on each chapter.

What Do I Keep When I File Chapter 7?

Each bankruptcy case will vary depending on the equity in your car or house, how much you owe to creditors, your household income, number of dependents, etc.

Chapter 7 filers can maintain their property in cases where the amount of the property equity is either equal to or less than the state exemption amount. Equity in your property is the difference between the current value of the property and how much you owe on it.

For instance, if you have a car worth $8,000 at current market value, but you owe $3,000 on it, you have an equity value of $5,000.

Similarly, with a home, if you owe $7,000 on a house that is currently worth $16,000, you have an equity value of $9,000.

Virginia Motor Vehicles Exemptions

Under Virginia law, filers have up to $6,000 in equity for their motor vehicles. In a joint case with a married couple, each spouse has up to $6,000 for a car in their name. This means that $6,000 in equity is protected from resale by an appointed bankruptcy trustee.

Your car will be protected in Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing if its equity is equal to or less than $6,000.

In some cases, if your vehicle’s equity is over the $6,000 exemption, you will have the option to use an unused portion of Homestead Exemptions (up to $5,000) in Virginia.

If the equity in the property does not amount to the $6,000 exemption, you will likely keep your vehicle. Trustees can deem it unworthy of sale, meaning the time and money put into resale would cost more than what the car is worth, leaving the trustee with nothing to pay creditors. In this instance, you would keep your car.

Virginia Homestead Exemptions

Virginia’s Homestead law exempts $5,000 for residential property, personal property, or both. Alongside the $5,000 exemption, there is an additional $500 per dependent that goes towards protecting your property. This exemption will double to $10,000 if you are a disabled veteran or if you are over 65 years old.

To receive the $5,000 exemption, you must file a homestead declaration prior to or after filing for bankruptcy.  However, it must be filed within five (5) calendar days after your meeting of creditors.  If the exemption is not enough to cover the entirety of your house’s equity, then a trustee appointed by the court can sell it and pay off your unsecured debt with the proceeds.

On the other hand, you will be able to keep your house if you are currently paying your house payments and/or the total exemption covers the equity of your home (value of your home less what you owe on it).

In total, exemptions are set in place to help filers keep inexpensive property that is vital in order to work and live. To have the best chance of securing your property, you should consult with the lawyers at Cravens & Noll, who specialize in bankruptcy. Having legal counsel during the bankruptcy process can help save your property.

What Do I Keep When I File Chapter 13?

Chapter 13 bankruptcy differs from Chapter 7 in that it puts filers on a repayment plan to pay back outstanding debt to creditors. In some cases, this can be the safest option to ensure you keep all your property fully protected. Typically for these bankruptcy filings, debtors will not lose any of their property.

Chapter 13 is specific to those still earning an income and it allows debtors to reorganize debts. With this filing, you may be able to pay less on some of your debts. The amount that you will pay creditors, however, depends on the amount of property that can be exempt through exemptions in the state of Virginia.

The nonexempt equity amount of your property is used to determine what you will pay on during your 3-5 year repayment plan for Chapter 13 bankruptcy. This is called the “liquidation analysis”.  For example, if your house has $20,000 in non-exempt equity, then at a minimum your repayment plan must pay your general unsecured creditors at least $20,000.  To do this, you will have to prove you have enough income to pay on the amounts required in your repayment plan.

Virginia Motor Vehicle Exemptions

Because this chapter of filing is for those who earn an income, it focuses on repaying the entirety of your nonexempt equity on your vehicle. If you have a car loan, your repayment plan will include monthly payments on your loan.

With the $6,000 exemption in equity, filers will not have to pay that amount during their repayment plan because it falls under state exemptions.

For instance, if you own a car worth $15,000 and you owe $4,000 on it, the equity of your car is $9,000. Virginia’s motor vehicle exemption protects $6,000 of this amount, leaving $3,000 as nonexempt. In this case, your repayment plan will have to include $3,000 of nonexempt equity to pay back to general unsecured creditors.

Homestead Exemptions

As with cars, bankruptcy trustees cannot take your home in a Chapter 13 filing. If you are short on a mortgage payment but want to keep your house, your repayment plan will have to include the nonexempt equity of your home and the mortgage payments.

To qualify for this chapter, you will have to prove your income is enough to cover what you owe within 3-5 years. Since the exemption is $5,000 and $500 per dependent per Virginia’s Homestead laws, the nonexempt equity after these exemptions is what will have to be paid to creditors through your plan.

Simply put, you can keep your nonexempt property, but you will have to pay your creditors an amount that is equal to the nonexempt value of your property.

For example, if your home is worth $150,000 but you have a mortgage balance of $50,000, your home’s equity is $100,000. The amount of exempt equity depends on whether you have dependents, are a disabled veteran or over 65.

When the exemptions are taken into consideration, whatever is left of nonexempt equity is the minimum amount you will have to pay your creditors during your payment plan.

Contact Cravens & Noll Bankruptcy Law Group

The best way to be sure you are getting the best results from your bankruptcy case is to consult with lawyers who specialize in this area. With years of experience, the lawyers at Cravens & Noll are ready to protect your car and home amid your bankruptcy case.

Worried about if you will lose your home and car? Contact us now for a free initial bankruptcy consultation

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