Service members Civil Relief Act (SCRA) of 2003
The SCRA 50 App. U.S.C. §§ 501-596, replaced the Soldiers' and Sailors' Civil Relief Act of 1940. Section 502 sets out the act's express purpose:
The purposes of this Act are (1) to provide for, strengthen, and expedite the national defense through protection extended by this Act to service members 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 service members during their military service.
The US. Department of Justice is successfully prosecuting bad actors who blatantly violate the SCRA. You should read the statute for specifics, but a generalized summary follows.
See also the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA), which generally requires you to rehire former employees who left to perform military service even when their return occurs several years later.
When the SCRA applies ?
The SCRA applies where there is any adverse action against an active member of the armed services or their dependants on multiple topics and protects any "service member" during their period of military service. Generally this means any member of the uniformed services while on active duty, including Reserve and National Guard troops while on orders in active status.
A service member's dependants are covered if they are materially affected by their sponsor's military service. Dependants include a spouse, children or any person that the service member provides at least half of their support for 180 days prior to a claim for relief under the act, §538.
These protections include against any judicial or administrative proceeding commenced in the United States, the individual states, and political subdivisions, whether of record or not, i.e., whether in circuit court or at the clerk desk in a Department of Motor Vehicles office).
Section 521 prohibits entry of default judgments against a covered service member unless an attorney is appointed first, including child custody cases. The act does not address who pays for the appointed attorney. If counsel cannot contact the service member, the court must enter an automatic 90 day stay of proceedings. If the service member has received notice of an action, they can receive an automatic stay of proceedings anyway if they can explain why they cannot appear, and provide the court a letter from their commanding officer explaining why the member cannot appear (§522). A court must open the judgment on a petition by the service member (during service period or 60 days after terminationo or release) if a default judgment is entered against an active duty service member and no attorney was appointed. Vacation of a default judgment does not impair the rights of a bona fide purchaser for value.
Other substantive protections
Outside the general relief above, §§ 521 through 596 provide substantive legal protections, including in certain circumstances:
- prohibition of penalties under a contract if performance of military service prefented performance of the obligation, §523(a)
- statute of limitations tolled during service, including for redemption of real property, but not including IRS, §525
- interest limited to 6% (subject to court determination that service does not impair ability to pay rate exceeding 6%), accelleration of principal prohibited, §527
- prohibiting eviction from residential property,subject to court grant of relief to landlord, §531
- service members can rescind a lease if they are deploying or changing their duty station, §535
- a judge can completely rewrite the terms of a contract when a service member is a party to the agreement, §532
- mortgage and lien holders may not repossess the property of service members without court approval, and the court may "adjust the obligation", §533
- limits on enforcement of storage liens, §537
- municipalities and state entities are prohibited from taking action on property tax liens on service- members, and providing for redemption up to 180 days after termination or lrease from service, §561
- deferring collection of ncome taxes, §570
- reinstatement of health insurance, excluding employer-offered insurance benefits, §594
- limiting availability of non-business assests for personal liability for business liabilities, §596