Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA)

Servicemembers Civil Relief  Act (SCRA) and Family Law

The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act of 2003 (SCRA), formerly known as the Soliders and Sailors Relief Act of 1940, is meant to protect military service members from being taken advantage of while away from home serving their country. The law could affect a family law case significantly.

The idea of the SCRA is to protect service members from legal issues at home so that they can focus on their military tasks at hand. The law allows service members to get a delay in any court proceeding that might affect their rights. When a member of the military is sued in a divorce case and they are stationed in another state or another country, the matter can be delayed for a reasonable time to allow that person to more fully participate in the process.

The SCRA protect all active members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, officers of the Public Health Service assigned to the Army or Navy, reservists on active duty, dependents and persons or businesses who may be liable along with the member of the military.

How does the judge learn a party is deployed? When the divorce complaint is filed, the person filing it must swear out an affidavit stating whether or not the other party is serving in the military. If the affidavit states that the person is in the military, the court cannot enter a judgment against the person unless and until the service member appears in court or a lawyer is appointed by the court to represent their interests.

If the service member comes back to learn the legal process is over without any notification because the affidavit was false, the party filling it out could face perjury charges. The party could also request that the order be vacated.

If the service member is not available, delays are available

If the military member makes a request, a 90 day delay in the proceeding is normally automatically granted. If more time is sought, the service member must establish they have tried to get a leave of absence to attend the scheduled hearing but were unsuccessful. If that request isn’t granted, the court needs to appoint an attorney for the service member. The length of the delay that must be “reasonable” which depends on the situation, but it can be no longer than the length of the service member’s duty plus three months.

The SCRA isn’t a tool to dismiss a divorce action, though it may delay it

SCRA does not limit the power of judges to make decisions on the merits of the case and does not empower a member of the military to have a divorce case dismissed or have court order in his/her favor just because they are in the military. A court can stay the proceedings if a party’s military service has a material effect on the ability to defend the divorce case. A judge can also deny a stay if the military service has no material effect on the ability to defend against the litigation.

The good and the bad

This extra time is a double edged sword. It may be very helpful to the military member overseas, but will put off the eventual resolution for the spouse back home.

  • It will delay a judge from issuing orders.
  • If you’re not in the military, these delays can lead to frustration, because the law gives the other parent more time to respond and create legal papers. It also makes the process longer.

There may be advantages to the non-military spouse of a delay, especially if the spouse in the military is close to twenty years of service. If the spouse has only been in the service a short time, the non-military spouse, after a divorce, loses military entitlements, including base housing or a housing allowance, commissary privileges, post exchange privileges and on-base or post medical care.

If there is a long term marriage to a service member with a twenty year career, the spouse may be able to retain rights to future medical care and insurance (just not on base). Under the Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act, former spouses can take advantage of full medical, commissary and exchange privileges if,

1) The marriage lasted at least twenty years,

2) The spouse in the service has at least 20 years of creditable service for retirement pay, and

3) The time in the service and the marriage overlap for twenty years. Reduced benefits may be available in limited circumstances when the marriage lasted less than twenty years.

Even if there are delays, decisions can still be made

Judges need to balance the protections of the SCRA and the needs of the family at home. Children’s needs often trump the SCRA’s provisions when orders are written. These can concern outstanding issues concerning children that need immediate attention so that the children at issue can have some stability and predictability.

Balancing the interests of all involved

The SCRA prohibits a service member being defaulted by a judge, which goes to the heart of the law. A default is a decision entered in favor of the party that is in court, against the party who has not appeared. This provision applies in family law cases, including divorce. While a service member is deployed away from the jurisdiction, generally speaking, a judge shouldn’t sign an order in favor of the civilian spouse if the service member parent fails to appear.

If the military member has been defaulted, and he or she had no knowledge of the proceedings, under the SCRA, once the person is released from active duty, there is 90 days to ask a court to open a default judgment that was entered while the person was deployed.

If you’re the civilian spouse and you feel like you’re swimming up against the tide of the SCRA, you still have many advantages. You should have access to the courts. You can still argue the other parent does not have a valid reason for a delay and is abusing the law to get unwarranted delays.

Mike's Top FAQs About Divorce

How is a military pension divided in a divorce?

How is a military pension divided in a divorce?

Divorce proceedings are conducted by state courts and they can divide military pensions. The federal Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act (USFSPA) allows (but does not mandate) state courts divide military retirement pensions upon divorce, legal separation or annulment.

How much of the pension gets divided?

The share of a pension to the non-military spouse could be as low as nothing or as high as half.

  • The non-military spouse might get 50 percent of the pension only if the marriage lasted the service member’s entire military career.
  • If the marriage lasted for part of the military career, the pension division will probably be prorated to reflect the time the spouse served in the military.

How an ex-spouse gets paid?

The USFSPA has a 10/10 Rule which states that if the couple was married for ten or more years while a spouse performed at least ten years of service, the government will make payments directly to the ex-spouse.

If this rule doesn’t apply, but the non-military spouse is awarded a portion of the pension payments, the service member gets paid the entire amount but will be obligated to the correct portion to the ex-spouse.

Another way to get paid is to have an actuary evaluate the military spouse’s pension to determine its current cash value. The military spouse would then give the other spouse an equivalent value in cash or non-marital property, leaving the military spouse with exclusive rights to the pension.

Posted in: Divorce, Family Law, Military Divorce, Property Division

How are disability payments to a military veteran handled in a divorce proceeding?

How are disability payments to a military veteran handled in a divorce proceeding?

The federal Uniformed Services Former Spouses Protection Act (the “USFSPA”) permits divorce courts to award ex-spouses of service members part of “disposable retired pay” (the retired pay available (after necessary deductions) based on salary and years of service). How that’s divided is decided by an agreement between the parties or by the judge.

  • Under the USFSPA, military disability pay is not “disposable retired pay” and is not subject to division in divorce.
  • If a service member waives retired pay in order to get disability pay, an ex-spouse can lose out on hundreds or thousands of dollars which they might have received.

There are two kinds of military disability pay and both are excluded from the USFSPA definition of disposable retired pay:

  1. Military Disability Retired Pay: This is for those are disabled such that they can’t perform their military duties.
  2. VA Disability Compensation: This type of compensation from the Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) covers injuries or disabilities that occurred while on active duty, or which were made worse by active service, including service related (not necessarily combat related) mental or physical injuries.

To get these VA benefits, a service member must waive a certain amount of retired pay. If this is done, the amount waived is subtracted from the amount available to the former spouse.

Spouses can have some protections or take steps to get the maximum payments:

  1. If there is a separation or property agreement, it should include a provision stating if the service member waives any retired pay for disability pay, the service member would make a monthly payment to the non-military spouse in an amount that makes up for the lost retired pay.
  2. If there is no such agreement and the divorce issues are being litigated, the judge can be asked to retain jurisdiction to order the military member to pay spousal support in the future, or to modify an existing alimony order based on any change in the parties’ circumstances. If retired pay is reduced because of disability pay, the non-military ex-spouse could request the judge to order the military member to pay spousal support (or increase it) to make up for the retired pay that’s been lost.


Posted in: Divorce, Family Law, Military Divorce

What is the Service members Civil Relief Act (SCRA) in a Military Divorce?

What is the Service members Civil Relief Act (SCRA) in a Military Divorce?

The SCRA was enacted in order to help protect service member’s rights if and when they are called to active duty. It protects regular service branch members, in conjunction with members of the Coast Guard serving on active duty in support of the armed forces, members of the National Guard when serving in an active duty status under federal orders, and Reserve members who are called to active duty.

The SCRA affords the right for any court proceedings to be put on hold, or provided a “stay” to postpone any administrative activity if a member’s active duty has an effect on their ability to proceed in the case.  This specifically applies to child custody issues as well and a stay of court and administrative proceedings would be afforded in order to protect the non-present spouse’s parental rights. The SCRA would be incredibly helpful if a spouse were to attempt to change the status of child custody while the service member is deployed.

A ninety-day stay is automatically granted when a service member requests this protection in writing. However, any further delay is decided at the discretion of the judge, hearing officer or magistrate that is assigned to the matter. This protection is not afforded nor does it protect a member’s invocation right for any criminal court proceedings.

There are also many individual state laws related to military child custody. Through the USA4 Military Families initiative, the DoD is partnering with states in order to further support military families. Specifically USA4 Military Families is striving to educate policymakers and ensure deployment separation does not determine child custody decisions.

Posted in: Divorce, Family Law, Military Divorce

What is a Family Care Plan for Child Custody in a Military Divorce?

What is a Family Care Plan for Child Custody in a Military Divorce?

As with normal civilians, military couples are presented with child custody issues if they are seeking dissolution of marriage. Members of the military are aware that active duty often requires time away from home due to deployments, training or frequent relocations. These factors may present custody issues, however there are ways to prevent or relieve some of the stresses that can evolve in a military divorce regarding child custody matters.

A Family Care Plan is highly recommended and sometimes required in order to clarify necessary details about the care of your child if a service member is called to active duty or deployed at no notice. Although most couples aren’t required to establish a family care plan, if you are or become a single parent due to death of spouse, separation/divorce, a service member can remain active but must meet the family care requirements of DOD – essentially requiring such members to have a “family care plan.”

A Family Care Plan is a set of documents describing who will care of your child during specific instances or if a military member is away on deployment or training. When it comes to a Family Care Plan there are some slight differences depending on the service, however most have three basic requirements: short-term care providers, long-term care providers, and care provision details. These support details include naming who will care for the child, financial details, medical specifications, and logistical considerations pertaining to food, housing, transportation, etc. These named care providers must be a non-military person, who agrees, in writing to accept the care of the member’s child or children. This person will also sign the Family Care Plan, indicating they consent and understand the responsibilities they are being entrusted with.

Posted in: Divorce, Family Law, Military Divorce

Can parents create their own agreement for child support?

Can parents create their own agreement for child support?

Yes, parents can stipulate their own agreement regarding child support, but it must be approved by the court. In order for the court to consider reviewing the agreement, it must meet the following guidelines:

  1. There must already be an open court case between the parents.
  2. The agreement must contain the following information:
    1. Each parent is fully aware of his/her child support rights.
    2. Each parent is aware of what the guideline child support amount would be.
    3. Neither parent is feeling pressured or forced to agree on the stated amount.
    4. Neither parent is receiving public assistance or has applied for public assistance.
    5. Both parents think that the agreed upon amount is in the best interest of the child.

After you have reached an agreement with the other parent and have created a stipulation consistent with these guidelines, you will both need to sign the document. If you do not have attorneys, your signatures will need to be notarized. You can then submit the stipulation for the court’s review. If you have a court date scheduled, you can bring the stipulation with you to the hearing for the judge’s review and signature, or you can go to the courthouse and ask to speak with a family law clerk to get it approved and signed.

After you have received the judge’s signature, you’ll need to file the original with the court clerk, and serve a file-stamped copy of the order on the other parent (or their attorney, if they have one.)

Posted in: Child Support, Family Law