This guide will walk you through what to expect at a disclosure hearing, and what you will need to know to go in prepared. This is only a brief summary of your rights. There are other ways a creditor can collect a debt from you. If you have more questions, contact your nearest PTLA office.
A disclosure hearing can happen once a creditor has a judgment against you for money you owe. Sometimes the creditor must take you to court to find out what property and income you have. This is called a disclosure hearing.
Is this guide for you?
You can use this guide if:
- You lost a debt collection court case, and
- You are scheduled for a disclosure hearing, or think you might be soon.
You can start with Disclosure Basics to learn more about the disclosure process and get answers to some of the most frequently asked disclosure questions. There is also a video there that gives a general overview of some of the most important things to know about your disclosure hearing.
How to use this classroom
We've created this classroom so you can walk through a process step-by-step and keep track of your progress. The general topics are on the left side of your screen. With this classroom, you don't need to complete all the steps. You can choose to read only the steps that you want to learn about.
- Click on the name of the step you want to visit OR use the “next” and “previous” buttons at the bottom of each page to go between sections of the classroom.
- Click the gray checkmark next to each step when you’re done. It will turn green. Next time you come back to the classroom, you can pick up where you left off.
- OR read through the steps without checking them off just to learn more about the process. If you check something off by mistake, just click on the checkmark again to un-check it.
What is disclosure?
If you were sued on a debt and lost your case, your next step may be 'disclosure.’' This is a process the person or company you owe the debt to can use to get information about your income and assets. They can do this to figure out how to collect the debt you owe them.
The person or company you owe the debt to is called a ‘creditor.’ Sometimes the creditor must take you to court to find out what property and income you have. This is called a disclosure hearing. At the end of the disclosure hearing, the judge will decide whether you have anything the law allows the creditor to take. The judge will also decide how much your payments on the debt should be, and when you need to make those payments.
A good place to start is by watching this video that explains some of the most important things to know about the disclosure process. We have more detailed information about this in this guide, but the video covers the basics.
How will I know if there is going to be a disclosure hearing?
You will probably get a disclosure subpoena. This is a document that will tell you the date, time and location of the disclosure hearing. Usually a deputy sheriff delivers the subpoena.
To obey, go to the court on the date and time in the subpoena. You cannot obey the subpoena by calling the clerk or the judge.
In small claims cases, the judge may set up a date for a disclosure hearing in the original court judgment. This means there will be no subpoena, but all other rules about going to court still apply.
What if I can't go to the hearing when it is scheduled?
If there is a very good reason why you can’t go to the hearing when it is scheduled, you may be able to get the hearing re-scheduled. This is called a continuance.
If you have a very good reason, call the creditor's lawyer and ask for a "continuance by agreement." If the creditor's lawyer agrees, put your agreement in writing. You will both need to sign it. Next, file it with the court before the original date for the hearing. ‘Filing’ just means handing or mailing the signed agreement to the court clerk. If you don't do this, the court can decide the case against you because you did not show up.
If you can’t agree, send a letter to the clerk of the court to explain why you need a continuance. Send a copy of this letter to the creditor's lawyer. Do this as soon as you can. If you wait to send a letter to the clerk, you may not know whether the continuance was approved by the judge until the date of the hearing. If the judge denies your request and you do not appear, there may be penalties.
What if I don't go to the hearing?
The subpoena is a legal document that you need to obey. You should go to the hearing unless there is a very good reason that you can't, like if you are in the hospital. You cannot send your spouse or anyone else in your place. If you don't go to the hearing, a few different things can happen.
- The judge can order the sheriff to “arrest” you for up to three hours and bring you into court for the disclosure hearing. If the three hours runs out before you have had your hearing, the court will release you if you promise to come to a hearing at a certain time in the future. If you do not show up at the time you promised, you can be found in contempt of court. If this happens, you can be charged with a Class E crime, which means you could be punished by fines or imprisonment.
- Your employer may be ordered to withhold a part of your paycheck to pay the debt.
Note: In small claims cases, the judge may set up a date for a disclosure hearing in the original court judgment. This means there will be no subpoena, but all other rules apply.
Is any of my income or property safe from the creditor?
Yes. Maine law recognizes that there are certain basic things a person needs in order to live. Some property and income cannot be taken from you unless you agree. You can learn more about this in the "What are "exempt" property, earnings, and income?" section of this classroom.
Important Note: These rules may not apply if you have put your property up as “collateral” to secure a loan, like a car loan or a home mortgage. These rules also do not apply to certain types of debt, like child support.
What if I don't pay after I've been ordered to in a disclosure hearing?
If you don’t follow a disclosure order to pay a debt, you may be summonsed for civil contempt of court. This means you will have to go to court again for a contempt hearing, and could face some serious penalties.
At the contempt hearing, you will be given a chance to tell the judge the reasons you haven’t paid. If the judge finds you have a good reason for not paying (like if you were laid off from work or you were ill or injured), they can dismiss the contempt motion.
But, if the judge finds you do not have a good reason, they can jail you or fine you. The purpose of the punishment is to force you to pay. If you can come up with the money that you owe under the order, you should be released from jail or not have to pay the fine. You should get advice from a lawyer if this happens.
Also, if you miss two or more payments under an “installment order,” the court may order your employer to withhold some of your wages and to send that money to the creditor.