You’ve developed carpal tunnel syndrome at work. You’re underwater with unsecured debt and an upside-down mortgage. Your teen just wrecked the car while driving home from a party. These things can happen to anyone. Which lawyer do you call? Delaware’s own attorneys pick the very best.
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Vivian A. Houghton | Personal Bankruptcy
For nearly 30 years, attorney Vivian A. Houghton’s Wilmington practice has concentrated on bankruptcy, consumer law and real estate. Consequently, she’s witnessed firsthand the devastating effects of the recession and the housing crisis. “There’s been an absolutely tragic increase” in the number of people filing for bankruptcy,” says the Delaware native, who graduated from Delaware Law School of Widener College.
The process is challenging. New bankruptcy rules limit those who can file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Moreover, filing bankruptcy may not be the best decision, depending on the client’s circumstances.
Houghton directs people down the right path. “It’s a good way to help people and empower them,” she says.
Her practice involves pre- and post-bankruptcy counseling. “We consider the pre- and post-bankruptcy experience very important in guiding them so they don’t come back again,” she explains.
Houghton and her clients first assess the situation and determine future goals. The session is often emotional. “They shed tears because they feel ashamed,” Houghton says. But the client is not necessarily to blame. Incomes have stayed steady or disappeared, yet expenses keep rising. Businesses close. Jobs are lost. “We focus on where do we go from here?” she says. “How do I manage this so it doesn’t happen to me again?”
Clients receive information to help them handle collection calls in the workplace. They learn what to do if the sheriff knocks at their door and where to go for mortgage counseling.
In the post-bankruptcy counseling, clients learn how to build their credit, find reputable establishments for such necessary items as cars and appliances, and avoid lenders with high interest rates.
Houghton is as active outside of the office as she is inside it. She is the Delaware state chair of the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys and a member of the National Association of Consumer Advocates. “We take a hard look at any legislation that affects our clients,” she says.
She’s given presentations on such subjects as “Bankruptcy Facts and Fiction: What You Need to Know to Protect Yourself.” She also attends community and neighborhood meetings to discuss mortgage foreclosures and bankruptcy.
Realizing that every minute at work counts for her clients, she holds office hours from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., and she often works weekends so people needn’t take time off. She accompanies clients to every court appearance, even going so far as to meet them at the elevator to show her support.
“The system is scary to them, and it would be devastating for them to miss a hearing that is so important to their financial future and their family’s future,” she says.
The reward for her labor: seeing clients get back on their feet. “My clients are able to get a new economic start,” she says. “Once we wipe out their unsecured debt, they become even more productive and more enthusiastic about their new financial life. They gain self-respect.”
Page 5: Charles J. Durante Tax | Trusts and Estates