The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) is a federal law that can have important consequences in a Wisconsin divorce case. All family lawyers handling divorce, paternity, or child-related matters should be aware of at least the Act’s basic rules. I will dedicate a series of blogs on this topic to clarify the Act.
The first version of the Act was created during World War II, then updated in 1991 and 2003 The Act applies to active duty members, and mobilized Reservists and National Guard members. The SCRA’s purpose is to allow military members to devote themselves to service by limiting distractions from civil courts. The Act does not apply to criminal cases.
Servicemembers in combat zones, foreign deployment, undercover, sea missions, etc. simply cannot legitimately participate in legal proceedings in the US. Therefore, the SCRA offers a means to manage a legal case under these circumstances.
The Act’s primary means of relief for servicemembers is a “stay of proceedings,” which suspends a case until the member is able to legitimately participate. Upon request by the member’s lawyer or the judge, the case must be suspended for 90 days. The motion for stay must indicate at least 4 items:
- how the member’s duties affect his/her ability to participate in the case
- when the member would be available to participate;
- statement from the member’s commanding officer that duty prevents the member’s participation; and
- that military leave is not authorized for the case
Servicemembers may request an additional stay if their ability to participate in the case remains “materially affected.” Any additional suspensions are in the judge’s discretion. There are no specific time limits on additional stays, but they cannot be indefinite.
Simply filing the request for stay does not submit the member to the jurisdiction of the court where it is filed. The servicemember retains the ability to object to the court’s jurisdiction.
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.