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News > The Servicemember’s Civil Relief Act — an overview
The Servicemember’s Civil Relief Act — an overview

Posted 3/30/2011   Updated 3/30/2011 Email story   Print story

    


by Capt Tania Bryant
375th Air Mobility Wing Legal Office


3/30/2011 - SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill.  -- The Servicemember's Civil Relief Act clarifies and strengthens the rights and protections it provides to persons in military service. SCRA covers servicemembers' civil--but not criminal--legal proceedings; financial obligations and liabilities, such as rent, installment contracts, and leases; life insurance; and taxes.

Who Does it Apply to: SCRA applies to all military members on federal active duty. This includes the regular forces, the Reserve forces, and the Guard forces in Title 10 active duty. In limited circumstances (i.e., evictions, joint leases), SCRA may apply to dependents of the military member.

Significant SCRA protections

Court and Administrative Proceedings: SCRA provides for an automatic, non-discretionary 90-day stay of civil proceedings upon application by the servicemember. The application does not constitute an appearance. To obtain the automatic stay, a servicemember must demonstrate there is a material effect and provide the court a date when he or she will be available. The servicemember must also submit a letter from his or her commander stating that duty prevents the member from appearing in court and that military leave is not authorized.

Reduced Credit and Loan Interest: A member may reduce the higher interest rates the member pays for any financial obligation (credit card, loan, mortgage) individually or jointly entered into before active service to six percent (6 percent) if active service materially affects the member's ability to repay the financial obligation. In addition, SCRA prohibits the lender from accelerating the principal amount owed, and forgives (vs. defers) the excess interest payments that would have been due under the higher interest rate so that the member is not liable for the excess after he or she is released from active service. This reduced interest rate is effective only during the period of active military duty for most obligations; however, for a mortgage obligation, the reduced interest rate continues for 1 year following release from military service. Finally, this reduced rate does not apply to financial obligations entered into or accrued while on active service.

Termination of Automobile Leases: SCRA allows a member to terminate an automobile lease that the member signed either before or during active duty if the member meets certain conditions. Generally, a reserve or guard member must, after entering the lease, be called to active duty service for at least 180 days or more. An active duty member must, after entering the lease, EITHER (a) receive military orders for a permanent change of station to a different state OR (b) deploy for 180 days or more. Terminating the lease requires written notice to the lessor with a copy of military orders.

Termination of Real Estate Leases: A member may terminate, without penalty, leases and rental agreements entered into before or during active military service for real estate properties (i.e., residences, businesses) if the member meets certain conditions. Generally, the member must be called to active duty service for at least 90 days, or receive military orders for a permanent change of station or receive orders to deploy for at least 90 days after entering into the lease agreement. Terminating the lease requires 30 days written notice to the lessor with a copy of military orders.

Termination of Cell Phone Contracts: Cell phone installment contracts are also protected. These contracts may be cancelled or suspended if the servicemember is deployed overseas for 90 days or longer or if he makes a PCS move. The servicemember may cancel or suspend the cell phone contract without penalties or extra fees as long as the deployment or PCS materially affects the servicemember's ability to satisfy the contract or utilize the service.

Foreclosures, repossessions: If because of active military service, a member breaches the terms of a purchase contract for real property or an automobile, the property may not be foreclosed or repossessed without a court order. The member, under certain circumstances, may request a stay of the proceedings.

Domicile (Legal Residence) & Taxation: A member can maintain the domicile or legal residence in the state the member resided before entering active duty. A member does not lose the domicile (legal residence) in a state when absence from that state is due to military orders. The domicile is the state where the member resided at some point in time and while residing there formed the intent to return to the state after his or her military service ends and remain there indefinitely. The servicemember needs to maintain minimal contacts with the state by retaining a valid driver's license or voter's registration.

This article is meant only to be a brief overview of the protections afforded by SCRA to military members and their dependents. For further information seek free, confidential advice from the Scott Air Force Base legal assistance office.



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