Active military duty can pose problems when it comes to taking care of everyday life, including paying bills, and dealing with legal issues should they arise. The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act of 2003 is designed to help alleviate and provide ways of handling some of these issues so that military personnel can reasonably carry out their duties without legal ramifications to themselves and their families. It some ways the act also protects those with whom military personnel do business or may be involved in litigation.
As a military service member, you can have interest rates capped at 6% during your time of active duty. This only applies to debts incurred or agreements entered into before active duty began, and only if military service affects your ability to pay. The cap applies to many types pf debt including:
- Credit cards
- Student loans
- Back child support
In order for the cap to take effect you must notify the creditor in writing and include a copy of your military orders no later than six months (180 days) after termination or release from active duty.
Civil Court Proceedings
You are eligible for postponement of civil legal proceedings, such as a lawsuit or divorce, and execution of judgments, during and for 90 days after active duty. The court may choose to impose this postponement on its own, and is required to grant postponement at your request unless it can be proven that military service does not affect your ability to comply. This does not apply to criminal proceedings, however, bail bonds cannot be enforced while you are in military service.
A default judgment is entered by the court when a party fails to respond to a lawsuit or fails to appear in court. A court cannot enter a default judgment without an affidavit from the person taking legal action against you stating that you are not in military service. If a default judgment is somehow obtain against you while you are in active duty, or within 30 days after you have left active duty, you have until 90 days after leaving service to request that the default judgment be reopened.
You and your dependents are protected from eviction from your rental home for three months, if your military service affects your ability to pay the rent and if the rent is within the rate set by the Consumer Price Index. In 2003 that amount was $2,400 per month or less, and it is adjusted for inflation each year. Landlords who proceed with or attempt to proceed with eviction can face criminal penalties including fines and imprisonment.
Termination of Leases
Under certain circumstances you and your dependents can terminate residential and vehicles lease agreements. If you have entered into a lease agreement before being called to active duty and your military service will last six months or more you can terminate either type of lease. If you entered into the lease agreement during active duty, and receive orders for a permanent change of station or 90 days or more you can terminate a residential lease. Vehicle leases entered into after entering active duty can be terminated if you receive orders for a permanent change of station outside of the continental U.S. or a deployment of six months or more.
You and you dependents can obtain temporary relief from mortgage payments and protection from foreclosure if you entered into a mortgage before entering active duty and your military service affects your ability to pay.
Under the SCRA it is possible to defer life insurance payments during your time of military service and for two years afterward. Health insurance which was effective before military service and terminated during service can be reinstated.
Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations is the time limit for filing a lawsuit. Think of your active duty time as a “time out” from the statute of limitations for you and anyone who may file a lawsuit against you. This could work for you or against you. It extends the period of time during which you may take legal action against someone else, but it also extends the period of time during which action can be taken against you.
The SCRA protects military personnel and their dependents from being at a legal disadvantage due to military service without providing them with an unfair advantage against their potential adversaries in court.
If you are a military service member and are facing legal issues, talk to an attorney who has