What happens if your spouse files for divorce while you are deployed overseas? How can you appear at a custody hearing in Washington if you are serving on a ship in the Pacific? The Service Members Civil Relief Act (SCRA) provides protection for active duty Service Members. Morris-Sockle is experienced in asserting SCRA rights for military members in divorce cases.

How SCRA Protects You in Divorce

The SCRA was enacted on December 19, 2003, replacing the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Civil Relief Act. SCRA provides protections for active duty Service Members by delaying prosecution of civil lawsuits filed against Service Members (including divorce, custody, and paternity proceedings), and protecting against default judgments (automatic loss as a result of failing to respond to the lawsuit).

Divorce cases have serious deadlines. Contentious issues such as custody, support, and property division often involve hearings before a judge. It is unfair for your spouse to demand motions be heard and hearings held while you are deployed outside the state of Washington.

For example, if you are stationed in Iraq or Afghanistan, your attorney can postpone court action until you are able to appear in court. However, the SCRA contains a provision that allows courts to disregard SCRA protections if they are being abused.

Obtaining a Stay under SCRA

There are several ways a Service Member can obtain an initial stay of 90 days.

  1. First, if the court determines that a Service Member is absent due to military service and that the Service Member may have a defense that cannot be presented without the Service Member’s presence, the court is required to grant a 90-day stay.
  2. Second, if the Service Member has not received notice of a proceeding, the court is required to grant a 90-day stay.
  3. Third, if a Service Member requests a stay and demonstrates that their military service prevents an appearance in court, the court is required to grant a 90-day stay.

Stays may be renewed if military service continues to prevent the Service Member from appearing before the court.

Protections from Default Judgments

A court cannot enter a default judgment against a Service Member unless SCRA procedures are followed. For example, the court must provide counsel for the absent Service Member. If a default judgment is entered in violation of the SCRA, the Service Member may ask the court to set aside the default judgment.

This protection means that your spouse cannot finalize your divorce by default, or your former spouse cannot get a default judgment modifying custody, child support, or spousal support unless SCRA procedures are followed.

SCRA and Protection

If you are represented by Morris-Sockle, you never have to worry about missing a court date. No matter where in the world you are stationed, your MSP attorney will be ready to appear for you in Washington courts to protect your rights and assert your SCRA protections.

Morris-Sockle attorneys advise and assist spouses and parents in the military going through divorce. We will help you understand how both Washington State and federal law applies to your divorce. You served your country and kept America safe. We are proud to stand by you in court.

Call us today at (360) 866-7100 to speak with an attorney who understands the needs of military members.

If you would like more information on the divorce process for members of the military please check out our Military Divorce Guide or contact our office to meet with an attorney about your particular circumstances.

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