Prior to 2003, many a soldiers, marines, and sailors came home to empty houses and divorce orders. Likewise, creditors frequently foreclosed homes, obtained judgments, garnished wages, and repossessed vehicles while service members were deployed abroad. This little-known fact caused significant hardships for American fighting men and women and resulted in many servicemembers leaving the Armed Forces after just one or two enlistments, rather than staying for a career.
In order to combat this nasty situation, the Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act was amended and recodified as the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act of 2003 (SCRA). This new law broadened the protections for members of our Armed Forces. One of the most significant changes was the expansion of waiting periods and legal stays being placed on civil actions during deployments.
What Happens If My Spouse Files For Divorce While I Am Deployed?
Divorce is a civil proceeding, just like probate, personal injury or a lawsuit to collect money for a debt. The SCRA offers major protections to deployed members of the Armed Forces who are parties to civil actions.
When you are sued, if you do not respond in a timely manner and defend yourself, a court can enter a default judgment, which essentially means you are guilty of whatever the plaintiff claims you did. However, as one might imagine, servicemembers who are deployed cannot reasonably show up for hearings and other court appearances, nor are they in a position to reasonably defend themselves until they get home. For this reason, federal law now requires the judge appoint an attorney to represent your interests and stay the proceedings (delay) if there is any reason to believe there may be a reasonable defense.
A stay is a delay or postponement of a matter until you can get home and defend yourself. If military service, such as a deployment, will prevent you from being present to defend yourself in court for more than 90 days. You can also apply for an additional 90 days’ stay. In fact, when the servicemember is deployed in times of war, he or she will be granted a postponement of an additional 60 days upon returning to the country before process can be served on him or her. This applies to divorce proceedings, child custody and support cases as well as foreclosures. Remember, however, this is only for civil actions, not criminal matters.
So, if you are sued for divorce, you have the right to retain legal representation and request up to a combined six months of postponement before the case can move forward. With reasonable limitations, most commands will permit a servicemember to make arrangements to return from overseas training and deployments to defend themselves in such matters.
Can Any Attorney Help Me If I Am Deployed?
Yes. In Texas, all licensed attorneys can represent a client in any legal matter. There is no legal requirement for an attorney to be board certified or “specialize” in order to handle a divorce. However, this does not mean you should choose just any lawyer. When it comes to protecting your financial future and your right to see your children, you deserve the very best legal representation you can get. Texas Family Law Board Certification demonstrates that the attorney has proven himself to be an expert in helping clients with divorces and child custody matters. Only 7,900 of the 90,000 attorneys in Texas hold board certification in one of 22 fields. Only a small fraction of those hold family law board certification.
Board Certified family law attorney, Bobby Dale Barina, understands the unique complications that go along with a military divorce. If you are a member of the Armed Forces going through a divorce in Texas, call or email today to discuss your rights and protect what matters most.