A good way to approach the decision of whether to hire a lawyer is to buy (and read) Nolo's book How to File for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy. It will give you a good idea of what issues may arise when you file, and flags specific situations when a lawyer's help is called for. It will also give you a good idea of whether the filing process seems to complicated for you.
Use the forms that are numbered in the 100 series to file bankruptcy for individuals or married couples. Use the forms that are numbered in the 200 series if you are preparing a bankruptcy on behalf of a nonindividual, such as a corporation, partnership, or limited liability company (LLC). Sole proprietors must use the forms that are numbered in the 100 series.
The third proceeding is the schuldsanering. This proceeding is designed for individuals only and is the result of a court ruling. The judge appoints a monitor. The monitor is an independent third party who monitors the individual's ongoing business and decides about financial matters during the period of the schuldsanering. The individual can travel out of the country freely after the judge's decision on the case.
Debt consolidation may or may not be a good idea, depending on your situation. Lower interest is a good thing, but turning unsecured debts (like credit card bills) into secured debts (like a home equity loan) can be a costly mistake if you eventually file bankruptcy anyway. Unsecured debts can often be eliminated in bankruptcy, while most secured debts cannot. If you can't pay your secured debt -- or if the payments are late -- you may lose your home.
Declaring bankruptcy can help relieve you of your legal obligation to pay your debts and save your home, business, or ability to function financially, depending on what kind of bankruptcy petition you file. But it also can lower your credit rating, making it more difficult to get a loan, mortgage, low-rate credit card, or buy a home, apartment, or business in the future.
There are two alternative systems that can be used to "exempt" property from a bankruptcy estate, federal exemptions (available in some states but not all), and state exemptions (which vary widely between states). For example, Maryland and Virginia, which are adjoining states, have different personal exemption amounts that cannot be seized for payment of debts. This amount is the first $6,000 in property or cash in Maryland, but normally only the first $5,000 in Virginia. State law therefore plays a major role in many bankruptcy cases, such that there may be significant differences in the outcome of a bankruptcy case depending upon the state in which it is filed.
Debtors do not necessarily have the right to a discharge. When a petition for bankruptcy has been filed in court, creditors receive a notice and can object if they choose to do so. If they do, they will need to file a complaint in the court before the deadline. This leads to the filing of an adversary proceeding to recover monies owed or enforce a lien.