The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act
While protecting our country, some service members may have trouble meeting their financial obligations for a variety of reasons such as an unexpected activation, deployment, injury, or extension of service. The Servicemembers' Civil Relief Act (SCRA) was enacted in 2003 to offer these service members and their families special protections and benefits.
The SCRA covers all active duty service members, Reservists, and the members of the National Guard while on active duty. The protection begins on the date of entering active duty and generally ends 30 to 90 days after the date when the service member is discharged from active duty.
Re-opening Default Judgments
The SCRA also protects active duty service members from default judgments, which are judgments issued against a defendant who fails to appear in court. A plaintiff who wants to obtain a judgment against a service member must submit a sworn statement to the court, called an affidavit, indicating whether or not the defendant is a service member. If it appears the defendant is a service member, the court cannot issue a judgment without appointing an attorney to represent the service member. If the attorney cannot locate the service member, the attorney's actions are not binding on the service member.
Under certain circumstances, the court must allow a service member to re-open a civil case that has been decided by a default judgment. In order to re-open a default judgment in a civil action, the judgment must have been issued during the service member's period of military service (or within 60 days after termination of or release from such military service) and the service member, or another person on the service member's behalf, must submit a request to re-open the judgment to the court that issued it. When the court receives the request, the court is required to re-open the judgment to allow the service member to defend him or herself if it appears that:
- Military service materially affected the service member's ability to defend the action; and
- The service member has a meritorious or legal defense to the action or some part of it.