Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Civil Relief Act (SSCRA)
The following information is a brief summary of The Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Civil Relief Act (SSCRA or Act). It is furnished for information purposes only and should not be used to make legal decisions. Consult an attorney or call the nearest legal assistance office on any military installation for specific legal advice on an issue under this Act.
What is SSCRA? SSCRA was adopted in 1940 to assist military personnel who are unexpectedly transferred or recalled to active duty. Our courts have generally construed the Act liberally in order to benefit those it was designed to assist. The U.S. Supreme Court stated that the Act should be read with “an eye friendly to those who dropped their affairs to answer their country’s call.” Its purpose is to give certain protection to military personnel when their legal rights or financial obligations are “materially affected” (creates a hardship) by the unforeseen recall to active duty. SSCRA is not intended to cancel or discharge lawful obligations; it only allows certain delays for appearing in court or paying off debts.
How does it apply? The table below provides general application information.
How do I request SSCRA protection? The servicemember or his commander can request a stay of proceedings until the servicemember returns from duty. This is applicable to divorce and child custody/support matters where the court retains continuing jurisdiction, and to financial obligations prior to default being declared. The servicemember must show that the inability to pay is due to entry into military service and that such military service has materially affected the ability to pay on time.
What if I default? A request may come from the servicemember to the court of record; however, it is suggested that the request come from the commanding officer of the unit to the court of record to avoid the possibility of legal “appearance.” In certain circumstances, the request can be from a dependent of the servicemember. The court must appoint a lawyer prior to the default judgment if the defendant is or may be in military service. Prior to a default, the servicemember can assert SSCRA protection to a default being taken. The servicemember has a right to reopen a default judgment if a default is awarded during the service period or within 30 days thereafter. The servicemember can make application to the court that issued the default judgment to set aside the default. The servicemember must:
# show he was prejudiced by not being able to appear in person;
can I use SSCRA?
# SSCRA can stop repossession of goods bought on an installment basis. This applies only to contracts entered into prior to military service. Under SSCRA, the court can terminate the contract and require repayment of all prior installments and deposits as a condition to repossession; order a stay of proceedings until the servicemember is available to answer; or grant such relief as may be equitable to conserve the interests of all parties.
# SSCRA can be applied to mortgages, trust deeds, or other security interests on either real or personal property. SSCRA is applicable if the obligation commenced prior to entry into military service; the property was owned by the servicemember or his dependent prior to start of military service; and the property is still owned by the servicemember or his dependent. The servicemember must show that the inability to pay is due to entry into military service and that such military service has materially affected the ability to pay on time. The nature of relief can include a stay of proceedings until the servicemember can be available to answer; an extension of the mortgage maturity date to allow reduced monthly payments; granting the foreclosure subject to being reopened if it is challenged by the servicemember; or extending the period of redemption by a period equal to the member’s military service.
# SSCRA allows the servicemember to terminate a lease at a time 30 days after the next rental payment due date. The servicemember is not responsible for lease payments thereafter. The servicemember must provide written notice of the proposed termination to the lessor. The lessor must refund any prepaid rent or security deposit. The servicemember must have entered into the lease prior to entry into active duty, and the leased premises must have actually been used by the servicemember and/or his dependents. The servicemember does not have to show “material effect.”
# Life insurance pledged as collateral applies to those with whole life insurance policies or other policies having a “cash value.” If the policy is pledged as collateral, SSCRA can be invoked to suspend redemption of the policy by a creditor for non-payment of installments.
What happens to my insurance? Upon recall to active duty, the U.S. Government (through the Veterans Administration) will guarantee the payment of insurance premiums on commercial life insurance policies. SSCRA provides only a standby guarantee. The servicemember is required to repay all unpaid premiums and interest within two years after expiration of his term of military service. If the servicemember fails to repay premiums, the policy will be surrendered for cash value, if any, and the U.S. Government will reimburse the insurance company for the balance of premiums still owing. The U.S. Government will then have a claim against the servicemember.
What about my taxes?
# SSCRA does not protect non-military pay, income to spouses of servicemembers, or real estate, which is always subject to tax by the state where it is located.
# The servicemember is subject to “property” tax only in the state of domicile on personal property owned exclusively by the servicemember. The host state can levy “sales” tax and “use” taxes on personal property. Personal property jointly owned by the servicemember and spouse, or exclusively by the spouse, is subject to double taxation. Motor vehicles are not subject to license or registration fees of the host state so long as the vehicle remains currently registered in the servicemember’s state of domicile. The host state can levy use fees or license fees not amounting to a tax on the vehicle itself if registration in the home state is not maintained.