What Does the SCRA Mean for Your Military Divorce?


If you’re a member of the military and seeking a divorce, you may wonder how particular laws may impact your divorce case.

The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), formerly the Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act, was enacted by Congress in 1940 and revised in 2003 to update and clarify the areas it covers. The stated purpose of the law, under 50 U.S.C. §§3901-4043, is:

(1) to provide for, strengthen, and expedite the national defense through protection extended by this chapter to servicemembers of the United States to enable such persons to devote their entire energy to the defense needs of the Nation; and

(2) to provide for the temporary suspension of judicial and administrative proceedings and transactions that may adversely affect the civil rights of servicemembers during their military service. § 3902

The SCRA is a federal law that protects active-duty military personnel, or those who are in their first 90 days post-service, from being adversely affected by certain civil actions. A California military divorce or family law case is one such action that can be affected by the SCRA.

How the SCRA Might Affect Your Military Divorce  

The SCRA deals with such issues as reinstatement of health insurance, contracts, mortgages, liens, life insurance, power of attorney, and very importantly, divorce. In a military divorce case, the Act provides that if a default judgment is taken against a servicemember on active duty, that and any proceedings in court can be stayed (paused), meaning stopped until the member is off active duty or an earlier date if permission to do so is granted or allowed under the Act.  

In certain instances, a servicemember must explicitly ask for a stay and in some cases the stay is automatic, but a stay cannot be counted on unless it is acted on by a judicial officer upon request.

This list of protections is not inclusive and going into extensive detail here is not possible, but make sure your family law attorney is aware of the provisions of the SCRA and knows how to apply them to help you, whether you are the servicemember or the spouse of a servicemember.

How SCRA Could Impact Child Custody & Visitation Cases  

Although the Act does not provide any specific direction as to child custody and visitation proceedings, California law does cover these issues under Family Code section 3047, which says in part:

a) A party’s absence, relocation, or failure to comply with custody and visitation orders shall not, by itself, be sufficient to justify a modification of a custody or visitation order if the reason for the absence, relocation, or failure to comply is the party’s activation to military duty or temporary duty, mobilization in support of combat or other military operation, or military deployment out of state.

This means that the mere deployment of a servicemember is not enough to justify changing  custody or visitation orders, and under 3047(b), if the court takes any actions to modify such an order, it is to be a temporary order only:

(b) (1) If a party with sole or joint physical custody or visitation receives temporary duty, deployment, or mobilization orders from the military that require the party to move a substantial distance from his or her residence or otherwise has a material effect on the ability of the party to exercise custody or visitation rights, any necessary modification of the existing custody order shall be deemed a temporary custody order made without prejudice, which shall be subject to review and reconsideration upon the return of the party from military deployment, mobilization, or temporary duty.

SCRA & Military Divorce: The Bottom Line

If you are a servicemember involved in a California divorce or family law case, take steps to actively protect yourself under the provisions of the SCRA and state law. Confer with an experienced attorney, carefully retain copies of any court documents you receive, and do not miss any deadlines you must meet under California law or federal law.  

As a non-servicemember party to a divorce, be sure you meet all procedural rules and deadlines and be aware that the SCRA gives protection to the other party that may delay or halt the case for a certain amount of time.  

Contact a San Diego Divorce Lawyer

When you’re going through a divorce, an experienced divorce attorney can help you understand the process, including particulars related to military divorce.

If you are considering divorce or have already made the difficult decision to pursue divorce and have questions, contact JWB Family Law to schedule a free consultation.

Is Domestic Violence a Felony?

Yes, domestic violence can be a felony. A criminal case begins when someone reports an incident of domestic violence to law enforcement. If an arrest happens, criminal charges may be filed by the District Attorney. What is considered domestic violence? California...

How is Spousal Support Calculated?

In California, there are two types of spousal support: temporary and permanent (or long-term support).  Temporary support is support that is ordered before your final judgment of dissolution. Permanent or long-term support is ordered either at trial or through...

How Long Does It Take to Get a Divorce in CA?

If you plan to file for a divorce in the state of California, you're probably wondering how long the divorce process will take to complete. The answer to that question is—it depends. Under California family law, a couple cannot be divorced until at least six months...

JWB Family Law Adds Anne B. Howard ESQ., as a Senior Associate Attorney

JWB Family Law is expanding its team to welcome Anne B. Howard, ESQ, as a Senior Associate Attorney. Anne brings extensive expertise in family law to the team, specializing in child support, paternity, asset, and property division, and divorce. “I was drawn to the...

Custody and Successful Co-Parenting During the Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc in our daily lives. Schools are closed, parents are working from home, and some have lost their jobs. Life is not what it was just a few months ago. Children are now with parents all day—every day. Parents are now responsible...

How to Deal With Domestic Violence During COVID-19

There is a growing concern amongst professionals regarding a rise in domestic abuse during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the period from March 1 through April 25, 2020, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department logged 2,309 domestic-related calls. This is roughly a three...

JWB Family Law Continues to Serve Clients During COVID-19

Heightened anxiety and uncertainty in the world often result in significant family distress, including a surge in domestic violence incidents. As a family law practice, we need to show up for our clients now more than ever. For that reason, JWB Family Law is operating...

How Do I Change My Family Court Order and When Should I Do It?

When should you change your Family Court order?  When it no longer serves the needs of your family.   For example, if a custody order is entered when your baby girl is two years old, it may say she stays with each parent for 2 or 3 days and then trades back.  This is...

What is Family Court Services Mediation and Do I Have to Attend It?

If you are unhappy with your current custody plan, or need to create a new one, you may ask the court for assistance.  To do that, you will need to file a Request for Order with the local court. Immediately upon filing the Request, you will receive a date to attend...

How to Legally Obtain a Paternity Test

It happens.  Sometimes we do not know who the biological father of a child is.  It is important information. Paternity effects health issues, as well as the socioeconomic ones.   Enter the paternity test.  It is not like the old days of enormous expense, blood tests,...