The Service Member’s Civil Relief Act (SCRA)

Another wrinkle in dealing with a military service member in a Bethesda family law case is the Service Member’s Civil Relief Act (50 U.S.C. app. §§ 501 et. seq.) which is a federal law (applicable in every state) that protects the rights of service members while on active duty (or within 90 days of release from active duty).  It also makes it far more difficult to obtain a judgment; including an alimony or child support order, against someone who is on active duty.  If a service member is unable to appear in court to defend his or her case because of his or her service, then the court will allow a continuance (or postponement) until the service member is reasonable available to appear in court. 

There are limits to this protection.  If a service member is on active duty at stationed in Afghanistan, the court will continue the proceedings until he or she is back in the U.S.  If the service member is stationed locally, then the case will not be continued.  The service member should seek a continuance through counsel by providing a copy of the active duty orders as well as a date when he or she will be able to appear in court.  The court will not grant a continuance until the service member retires in 20 years.

Even if the Bethesda service member does not request a continuance due to his active duty service but simply fails to respond to the Complaint for Support, the SCRA still applies.  If the defendant is in the military, the court will appoint an attorney to represent the defendant's interests called a Guardian Ad Litem. Initially, the plaintiff is required to pay the costs of the Guardian Ad Litem, however, the plaintiff can seek reimbursement from the Defendant through a motion with the court if the defendant was reasonably available but simply did not respond. 

The Guardian Ad Litem (or Bethesda military attorney for the missing defendant) will usually request that the case be continued until the defendant is available to appear and defend himself.  However, if the defendant is in the area (and the judge finds that he or she is reasonably available), the case will proceed in his or her absence and the court will enter a judgment by default.  If a default judgment is entered against a military member, the judgment may be reopened if the member files a request within 90 days after leaving active duty and shows that he or she was not reasonable available and had a valid legal defense.  The court may set aside the default judgment and hear the case again.