Tutuzdad's link to the PDF forms, also provides the
court's filing address in San Diego.
So that answers part of your question.
On to your other questions.
Yes, you can do it yourself.
It's time consuming. And you must read the instructions
very carefully. But, seeing the depth of research you've
done in Google Answers, you'd have no problem following
the instructions. Or even understanding them.
I recommend that you read the details, online, of the
different types of bankruptcy. sp as to be sure to file
under the right section. You'll find details in the
San Diego Court's online library.
Also, don't hesitate to go to their library in person.
You'd be amazed at how helpful the librarians can be.
Having an attorney do it for you would cost you between
$1500 and $3000 for a simple bankruptcy.
You could probably get it done for less using a service like
http://www.laworkshop.com/index.html Their offices seem to have
sprung up all over California.
You ask "What are the major pitfalls needing to be avoided?"
1) Omitting a creditor because you don't have a current address.
a) If you don't know, find out. Or at least use the last address
you had for them.
b) Run your credit report and list everyone on that report to
whom you money. Some of the detailed reports will include the
contact information for those companies listed.
c) If you have any judgements, make sure that you include them
in the BK. If you don't have a current address for those folks,
use the address on the judgement. If they haven't updated the
information or contacted you with a current address...too bad for
d) Make sure that you list all your personal debts. Don't overlook
someone just because they are family or a friend. Clear all debts.
Should you chose to pay them back later, out of the goodness of
your heart, or due to strong ethics, that will be up to you. But,
do NOT put anything into writing to that effect.
2) If you have tax debt that you want to discharge, DO have a tax
attorney review the assessment dates to see if they can be discharged.
If you don't want to pay an attorney, you may risk calling IRS and
asking their 'Special Procedures' staff to let you know on what
date those taxes can be written off by a BK. If you ask nicely, they
will tell you.
Do this BEFORE you file the BK. Some of those dates are a little sensitive,
due to various things that cause the statutes of limitions to stop running
(audits, appeals, filing for an offer-in-compromise, such things).
File a few days or weeks early and you'll have to cancel the BK and
start over again if you want to include the taxes in your BK.
3) Don't file under the wrong Chapter.
As an individual, you have several choices, Chapter 7, 11, 13.
Although, sometimes, people have used the strategy of filing
for reorganization to buy time and sort out some things. Then,
filing for Chapter 7 later, if they can't get their creditors
to agree to their terms.
4) Don't let landlord's, lenders or anyone else bully you during
the bankruptcy. You can't have bank accounts attached, or evictions
take place without them coming to a hearing of the BANKRUPTCY court.
a) If they do drag you into some other court, DO show up. And
let the judge know that your finances are under the jurisdiction
of the bankruptcy court. Ask that the case be dismissed.
b) Corrollary - show up for ALL you BANKRUPTCY court scheduled dates.
The judges tend to be very sympathetic to individuals in trouble.
I went to hearing for someone who owed me money. Even though I was
able to prove to the BK judge that she had perjured herself about
her reported income and her job, he brushed it aside. (I had proof
that, (a) she was employed, not unemployed, and (b) that she was
earning well over $60K. The judge wasn't interested.) So you have
a good chance that no one will be able to interfere with you until
the bankruptcy is settled.
c) Yes, secured creditors, like cars, houses, etc. will get their
assets back. Eventually. Just keep rescheduling court dates to drag
5) Any company with whom you want to retain some credit standing,
or any asset you don't want to lose - pay them off at least three
months before filing. That includes credit cards. You don't need to
list the credit cards that you don't owe money on. (They will learn
about your BK. And they may end up raising the interest rate on your
cards. But they won't cancel you.)
Over all, these are the main things to watch out for.
If you have any questions, do feel free to ask.
P.S. I filed several bankruptcies for real estate partnerships
many years ago without an attorney. Although I was terrified,
everything went well. The judge was quite helpful.