A bankruptcy court can't resolve just any matter. The judge's power is limited to "core proceedings" that are directly related to bankruptcy, and "non-core proceeding" issues that aren't technically bankruptcy matters, but that will impact the bankruptcy case. In this article, you'll learn more about the differences between core and non-core proceedings.
Only a bankruptcy judge has the power to preside over bankruptcy matters, and a core proceeding resolves issues that arise exclusively in a bankruptcy case, such as:
This list doesn't include every core proceeding that someone might bring before the bankruptcy court. A core proceeding also includes any issue affecting the sale of a debtor's assets or the relationship between a debtor and creditor, except for a personal injury or wrongful death action.
A non-core proceeding resolves any issue that isn't a core matter that could positively or negatively "…alter the debtor's rights, liabilities, options, or freedom of action…" or impact on "…the handling and administration of the bankrupt estate." (In re Fietz (9th Cir 1988) 852 F2d 455.)
The definition covers a large variety of cases—even those that don't directly include the debtor. Being related to and having an impact on the bankruptcy case is sufficient.
Non-core proceedings often involve matters typically handled in a state court. For instance, a debtor reorganizing under Chapter 13 or Chapter 11 might need the court to decide a state-law breach of contract case first. Or a debtor might need a decision regarding the validity of a debt under state law. But state law involvement isn't the sole criteria. The significant similarity is that a non-core proceeding involves an issue that must be decided before the bankruptcy case can conclude.
The bankruptcy judge's decision cannot become a final judgment in a non-core proceeding unless all parties consent (agree). If the parties don't consent, the bankruptcy judge submits proposed findings of fact and conclusions to the district court.
Some matters bear so little relation to the bankruptcy case that the bankruptcy judge will never hear them. Examples include divorce, child custody, and probate cases. Those will be brought and remain in state courts with appropriate jurisdiction.