More MSRRA Info

January 22, 2010 | Kate Horrell

Wow, this Military Spouse Residency Relief Act is a hot topic.  There is so much information and the guidance that is coming down from the individual states is sketchy, at best.

One of the most popular questions is when a service member has residency in a certain state (let’s say Florida) and the spouse was not originally from Florida, has never lived in Florida, and has been changing their driver’s license and voter registration every time they move.  The MRSSA states that the spouse can maintain their domicile (residency) in the same state as the active duty service member, but it doesn’t tell how to obtain that domicile (residency) in the first place.

This article from Defense.gov makes it seem like the MSRRA has just opened up a whole new can of worms regarding residency.  It states:

“One common misperception is that the new law allows a spouse simply to ‘choose’ his or her spouse’s domicile. This is not true,” he said. “Domicile must still be demonstrated or proven under the rules that have always been in place. Likewise, a spouse does not ‘inherit’ the domicile of the military member through marriage.”

Spouses also should be aware that the law doesn’t allow them to recapture or regain a previously abandoned domicile, he added.

This is pretty darn unhelpful, in my opinion.  I could write a mile-long list of the problems with this set up, but I’m guessing that you have your own list.  At this point, spouses appear to have two choices:  stick with their current domicile, or make some questionably legal moves to establish their domicile in the home state of their service member. There are a few situations in which is should be pretty easy:  if you are currently stationed in the state that the service member claims residency, then you should change all your stuff right now, while it is quick and unquestionable.  If either set of parents live in the state, you may find it pretty simple to change your things over using the parents’ address.  (Legal, I’m not sure.  Easy, probably.)

If you are living in a state that is not your spouses’ domicile, and your parents don’t live there, you may encounter some difficulty in establishing domicile there.  The way I read the Defense.gov article, you don’t have the right to claim your service member’s domicile just because it is their domicile, you must have some other justification for claiming it.  However, many states are providing guidance on how to establish domicile in their state.  (See the state-by-state links.)  It seems like this wasn’t thought through very carefully when the law was written.

I will admit that I have always maintained all my things in Florida even though I have never lived there.  It seems I may have been doing it wrong all along, but it wasn’t with malicious intent.  I lived in Maryland when we married, and I did change my domicile to Virginia for a year in order to claim in-state tuition.  We then went overseas.  Without a state to claim, I changed my driver’s license and voting registration to match my husband’s and we used his parents’ address.  He was a resident of Florida when he entered the military and it appeared to be the best and most legitimate choice.  I have always paid state taxes wherever I have worked, so at least I’ve gotten that part right!

I know that this probably doesn’t answer any of your questions, but hopefully it has provided a little bit more information.  The group that helped push the MSRRA through Congress maintains a Facebook page and it is a good source of information.  I promise that I’ll keep you up to date as I learn more.

Comments

  1. Christine C says:

    I myself have kept my IL license & voter's registration in IL other than VA because I tried to go to the community college, and when I filled out the application, they considered me a non-resident due to hubby being in the military and a resident of another state. It didn't matter that I had lived here & paid taxes for about 5 years at the time. I was going to change my license over that year to VA when my IL one expired but once they told me that, I changed my mind. We usually go to IL a couple of times a year anyway to see the folks, so I'm sure I'll be able to continue having my license renewed. (though I'm like you and not sure how legal that is) VA dmv does state on their website that spouses & dependents of military can drive on their licenses from other states. I have that printed out & put in my glove box.

    I did set myself up with an appointment with Navy legal to see if I can claim IL as my residence instead of VA, so I can pay IL taxes on my pay instead of VA. It's cheaper if I can. I figure the military legal people would be able to tell me for sure vice going to civilian legal people.

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