Tim and Melinda Inman thought they'd done everything right. So how did they end up in court, declaring themselves unable to pay their debts?

Melinda and Tim Inman had known this day would be difficult, but they hadn't expected such a large crowd in the courtroom. More than 50 other people were waiting for the judge to call their names.

There was no exchange of polite conversation. Just being in bankruptcy court belied a secret so personal that few seemed comfortable with small talk. When the Inmans' turn came, Tim walked to the front, then turned and faced the onlookers. He answered the judge's questions: Are you Timothy Inman? Is this your correct address? Are these the debts in question?

Then the judge addressed the crowd: Are there creditors present who wish to present a claim against these debts? No one answered. When the judge was satisfied, Tim stepped down. He and Melinda hurried from the room, glad to escape the awkward scrutiny of strangers. It was now official: They had filed for bankruptcy.

How Could This Happen?

"You feel ashamed," Melinda says, recalling the scene in the courtroom three years ago. "It's a blow to your ego," says Tim. "Bankruptcy implies irresponsibility, that you couldn't take care of your family. You don't want to be known as a failure."

But the Inmans weren't failures. Tim had started a new job as postmaster in Scottsbluff, Nebraska. Before their recent move there, the Inmans had lived for 17 years in Manhattan, Kansas, where Tim worked as a postal supervisor. Melinda homeschooled their five children and managed the household. In 1989 Tim completed his college degree while working full-time.

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