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Legal Forum

Soldiers’ & Sailors’


Civil Relief Act
Are You Covered?
A
S MORE military members are being
deployed to trouble spots around the
world or to fight the war on terror- Members of the Army and Air National Guard, reserve
ism, there has been an increase in questions forces and regular military on active federal service and
about the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Civil Relief Act some of their dependents are covered by the SSCRA.
— especially from members of the reserve Soldiers who wish to read this lengthy law can find it on
components and their families. the Internet by searching for “Title 50, Appendix, United
States Code, Sections 501-590.”
The SSCRA The law covers a wide range of matters that concern
almost every facet of civilian economic and judicial ac-
The Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Civil Relief Act be- tivity, and it requires a booklet to properly address. This
came a federal law in 1940. It’s purpose is to article is limited to the five areas usually of the greatest
protect active-duty and reserve-component interest to soldiers.
members of the armed services who may Most often, relief concerns the staying of judicial pro-
be disadvantaged in terms of their eco- ceedings, exemption from multiple income taxation, re-
nomic and property interests due to serv- duction of interest rates, early termination of leases, stop-
ing their country. The SSCRA permits service ping mortgage foreclosures and extending statutes of
members to suspend or delay certain civil liabili- limitations.
ties and civil-court actions.
The law does not exempt service members
from legal obligations that result from an act
Stay of Civil Proceedings
of wrongdoing. The law does not cover crimi- Stays of civil proceedings are avail-
nal charges and citations that include misde- able when soldiers are sued and are not
meanors such as reckless driving and driving reasonably available to appear in court or
while intoxicated. Requests to delay court dates able to achieve proper legal representation
for these obligations should be addressed to due to military service. Soldiers may ask the
the court and prosecutors, who may elect to court to stay proceedings until they return from
delay proceedings but are not required to do duty.
so under the SSCRA. Based on my experience, a judge advocate attorney
Steven Chucala is chief of client services in the Office of should not sign such a letter on behalf of a soldier, since
the Staff Judge Advocate at Fort Belvoir, Va. some judges have denied the stay on the grounds that
32 w w w. s o l d i e r s m a g a z i n e . c o m
By Contributing Writer Steven Chucala

the attorney made an appearance on behalf of the soldier, who reduce interest payments prior to giving proper written notifi-
is therefore represented. I recommend the attorney prepare a cation to the creditor. Do not make telephone requests, and keep
letter that the soldier’s commander can sign requesting the stay. copies of all correspondence.
This avoids the appearance that the soldier has legal represen- Information on mortgage debt is available via the U.S. De-
tation. partment of Housing and Urban Development’s toll-free num-
A judge also may grant a stay of enforcement of a legal obli- ber, (888) 297-8685, and on its Web site at www.hud.gov.
gation if the soldier’s ability to meet the obligation has been
materially affected by entry into military service.
Early Termination of Leases
Exemption from Multiple Taxation A soldier may seek an early ter-
mination of a lease if it was con-
Multiple taxation is a common concern as soldiers PCS from tracted prior to active duty. This in-
state to state. Soldiers remain subject to the tax liabilities of cludes residential and business
their legal residence (home state). The SSCRA provides immu- leases. Termination of leases en-
nity from taxes by host states on income earned through mili- tered into after coming on active
tary service. However, earned income from off-duty employment duty is generally governed by the
and that of the family members is taxable by the host state or terms of the lease contract or the
the state in which the income is landlord-tenant acts of each state.
earned. Soldiers must provide written no-
Some counties, as in Virginia, tice to their landlords, with cop-
impose personal-property taxes ies of the military orders.
on automobiles, mobile homes
and recreational vehicles. Sol-
diers are exempt from these
Mortgage Foreclosure Protection
taxes by host states and counties, provid- Many service members have purchased homes or used real
ing the property is in the soldier’s sole name or property to secure loans before they enlisted or came on active
parked on an exclusive federal-jurisdiction in- duty. Foreclosure protection applies when military service ma-
stallation. Where soldiers are exempt from terially affects the service member’s ability to make the loan
personal-property taxes on their motor ve- payments. The relief may consist of staying the foreclosure pro-
hicles, a county may nevertheless require reg- ceedings or providing for a decrease in the payments during
istration and display of a county sticker. Such stickers the period of service.
should be free of charge or cost a nominal fee (cost of the sticker)
and not serve as a revenue-producing source.
Seek Legal Advice
Reduction of Interest Rates When in doubt, CYA (consult your
attorney), preferably from your mili-
If debts such as a mortgage or credit-card debt were created tary staff judge advocate, since
prior to a soldier’s entry on active duty and if entering military their help is part of your benefits.
service “materially affects” the soldier’s income so that the pay- Simply reading the SSCRA is not
ments cannot be made, the soldier can request a reduction of enough to determine rights,
up to 6 percent of the interest rate. since the law’s application de-
The soldier must make a written request, provide a copy of pends on court interpreta-
orders and cite the statutory provision. The burden of proof is tions and decisions.
on the creditor to prove the soldier was not materially affected. And never depend on the
The portion of reduced interest rate is forfeited by the credi- advice of someone who is not an ex-
tor and may not be recouped in the future. Soldiers should not pert in the law.

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