A while back I read about a study in which Bankruptcy Judges were asked whether an apology by the debtor helped when deciding whether to confirm a Chapter 13 Plan. Some Judges were given a Plan that contained the following statement at the end of the Plan: “We have no way of keeping up with our bills and repaying everything. It is all we can do to pay the mortgage and keep food on the table. We know that we are responsible for the mess we are in. We are truly sorry.” Other Judges were given an identical Plan except it did not contain the apology. The fictional Plan was created to have some problems (otherwise, the apology would not have mattered) but the findings showed that about 40% of Judges who saw the apology approved of the Plan whereas only 34% approved of the Plan without it.
Does this study mean anything in the real world? Not likely. However, if there is something to take away from the findings, it is that Judges will normally give the benefit of the doubt to people who show they will make a good faith effort to propose a realistic Plan and then follow it. The Judge will not look the other way on a Plan that does not meet the legal requirements, but they may be more inclined to help people who have made an honest effort to address their financial issues. This might be something like allowing more money in the budget for the kids’ extra-curricular activities. If the debtor has previously been in court several times before trying to get confirmation of Plans that are poorly drafted, the outcome may be less positive. A good Bankruptcy lawyer can make a difference in making sure a Plan is filed to get you the best chance at confirmation.
For the Wall Street Journal article on this study, click here.