The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act

Kellam T. Parks
Managing Member of Parks Zeigler, PLLC

In July, the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against a credit union after it repossessed a car purchased by a Private first class Christian Carraveau, who was late on loan payments. If he was late on payments, why did the DOJ bring suit against the credit union? Because service members are protected by the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (“SCRA”) from this very situation, and others like it. These lawsuits can be substantial. In 2015 an auto lender in Ohio was ordered to pay 9.4 million dollars for violating the SCRA. Just recently, Wells Fargo came under investigation over allegedly illegally repossessing cars owned by military members. 

What is the SCRA?

The SCRA, once called the Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act, dates back to 1940; however, the practices associated with this legislation can be back traced all the way back to the Civil War when Congress placed a moratorium on all civil actions filed against Union soldiers until after the war. Essentially, the SCRA is legislation that prohibits institutions or individuals from taking advantage of the obligations of Servicemembers, mobilized National Guard, and military reserve.

Why is it important in a military divorce?

Importantly, the SCRA does not only deal with auto leases like the examples above, but also residential leases, court proceedings, evictions, and interest rates on financial obligations such as auto, mortgage, or credit card payments. When military orders require servicemembers to ship out on short notice, it is understandable that they should not be held accountable for contractual violations. If an unexpected change in duties result in a reduction in pay or physical absence, then arrangements made based on previous circumstances can be altered to reflect that change, as it was not the decision of the individual service member.

Parks Zeigler practices divorce and family law, and being located in Tidewater, Virginia, many of our clients, or their spouses, are in the military, so we are very familiar with the SCRA. This law is an important mechanism when handling these cases because it protects servicemembers from being taken advantage of because of military-related absence.  For instance, if the spouse of the servicemember attempts to deliberately schedule court or administrative proceedings when he or she will be deployed, the SCRA can be used to order a “stay,” or delay in the proceedings.

If you are dealing with any of these issues, please don’t hesitate to contact us for help.  

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