A bankruptcy case starts when official bankruptcy forms get filed with the bankruptcy court. The information contained on the forms allows the court to review all aspects of a debtor’s financial information before determining the appropriateness of granting debt relief. (The debtor is the person or business that owes a creditor money.)
The first official document, called the “petition,” is a coversheet of sorts. It contains identifying information, such as the debtor’s name, address, and the bankruptcy chapter filed. Particular information—such as the debtor’s property, debts, income, and expenses—gets disclosed on additional documents attached to the petition, called schedules. (There are other forms to complete, too. For an overview, read Forms You Must File in Chapter 7 Bankruptcy.)
A petition will fall into one of two categories: a voluntary or an involuntary petition. A debtor who personally wants to file for bankruptcy will file a voluntary petition. The debtor voluntarily chooses to enter into bankruptcy.
By contrast, creditors can force a debtor who falls behind on obligations into bankruptcy, too. A creditor might take this approach to prevent the debtor from using property or assets for personal gain instead of paying off debt. When creditors take this step, the petition is an involuntary petition. (For more, see Involuntary Bankruptcy.)