Blog #1 in this serious addressed the background of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) and the servicemember’s ability to request a stay, or pause, in a divorce or family law case. Blog #2 will discuss the possibility of a default judgment against the servicemember if he/she does not participate in the case at all.
The available stay under the SCRA does not last forever. If the member does not participate, the spouse can obtain a default judgment. The spouse must file a request for judgment, along with an affidavit indicating whether the other spouse is in the service. If so, the judge must appoint a lawyer to represent the member. If a lawyer is not appointed, any judgment given is null and void.
The lawyer for the servicemember will typically file the request to stay the case, and attempt to contact the servicemember in the meantime. Hopefully, the member can maintain some contact channel to provide direction to his/her lawyer in the case. Recall that the SCRA only requires the member to “meaningfully participate,” not necessarily to be 100% personally involved in every matter.
If correct procedures are followed, and the member still does not participate, the spouse can obtain a default judgment. The member, however, may still be able to reopen the judgment by filing a petition.
The petition must state that (a) the member was not aware of the judgment, (b) was on active duty when it was granted, (c) his ability to respond was impacted by his service, and (d) he had a legitimate defense to the claim. This petition must be filed while the member is still active duty, or within 90 days after discharge.
We will continue exploring the SCRA in the next blog.
Attorney David Kowalski routinely handles military divorces for both servicemembers and their spouses. Contact me at 608-709-5000 with any questions.