Military Service and Civil Law

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January 28, 2011

In Central Oregon and across the state, Oregon National Guard and reserve units are being called to active duty. This activation and deployment of service members has an obvious and immediate effect on familial relationships as departing troops bid farewell to children, spouses, and parents. However, it can also have a significant legal impact on divorcing spouses and parenting time. These service members should know that federal regulations provide relief enabling them to complete their tour of duty without losing the opportunity to assert their legal rights in a family law case.

Congress created the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Civil Relief Act (SSCRA) during World War I to allow military personnel the opportunity to devote full attention to their service duties. To this end, the SSCRA postpones or suspends some of the civil obligations of these personnel during active duty, thus curing the service member’s inability to assert his or her legal rights in judicial proceedings that take place during his or her term of service. Civil judicial proceedings that are scheduled during the period of service or within sixty days thereafter are delayed until active duty personnel can appear and participate in the proceedings. The SSCRA’s protective reach extends to all active duty personnel, reserves, and National Guard members in active federal service. It also extends to service members’ dependents, i.e. those who rely on the service member for support and maintenance for necessities.

Because the SSCRA delays family law proceedings until the service member is able to appear in court, this regulation can have important ramifications for military families involved in litigation. The SSCRA may prolong the completion of your divorce, or prevent a modification of custody or parenting time until the service member returns from active duty. If you or the adverse party are active service members, your attorney will be able to advise you of the SSCRA’s effect on your case.