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Is Bankruptcy Private?

If I file a Washington bankruptcy, is it private?

Is filing a Washington bankruptcy private? The short answer to this question is “no”. Filing a Washington bankruptcy is not a completely private matter. It is a public record that can be accessed.

If I file a Washington bankruptcy, who will know? Anyone can access your bankruptcy petition and other information regarding your bankruptcy because these are public records. They are not, however, easily accessible through a general search on the internet. Someone would probably have to go specifically looking for it to find, and they would have to know where to look.

Can I file a WA State bankruptcy without people knowing? Again, the answer to this question is “no”. There is no way to “seal” or “expunge” your Washington bankruptcy records so that they are not publicly accessible. Washington bankruptcy cases are public records, but the simple truth is that most people will never know that you filed unless you tell them.

Some newspapers print lists of people who file a Washington bankruptcy. But this does not appear to be very common, at least here in Western Washington. Usually someone would have to get notice that you filed for bankruptcy to know you filed. Your bankruptcy forms contain some private information about you – such as your income and your monthly budget – but it is not practical for most people to get access to them from the federal court. More sensitive information, such as children’s names and social security numbers, are kept secret by the court.

The bankruptcy court sends notice to all creditors and other affected parties. Any co-signers you have will probably find out. Your employer won’t find out unless they are a creditor or you filed Chapter 13 and your monthly payments are deducted from your pay check or the trustee needs to contact them for information relevant to your case.

Many people who file bankruptcy are worried that their employer will find about about their case and terminate their employment. Government employers cannot terminate an employee for filing bankruptcy. A private employer probably can terminate you. In our experience, however, they do not even if they somehow find out.

In today’s difficult financial times, Washington bankruptcies are a fairly common fact of life, and it wouldn’t make sense for an employer to let a good worker go just because they exercised their right to a financial fresh start.

The process is overseen by the courts and the US Trustee’s office. Not only do they make sure debtors are not abusing the system, they also want to ensure people who file bankruptcy are being treated fairly too.

The reason cases are open to the public in our country is, in part, to make sure the courts are run fairly. Again, however, if someone doesn’t have a reason to figure out if you have filed for bankruptcy, it is unlikely they will ever find out.