Domicile and Residence, A MSRRA Issue

One of the most confusing aspects of the Military Spouses Residency Relief Act is the idea of residency, or domicile.  From Merriam-Webster.com, the definition of domicile is “a person’s fixed, permanent and principal home for legal purposes.”  Every person, military or civilian, has one legal domicile.  The requirements to establish domicile differ from state to state, but generally include:

  • registering to vote, and actually voting
  • maintaining a driver’s license
  • registering automobiles
  • maintaining professional licenses
  • owning property
  • accepting tax breaks for homestead properties
  • preparing legal documents, such as wills, referencing a specific state
  • maintaining a physical presence in the state for a specific period of time

(More information on establishing domicile can be found in Establishing and Maintaining Domicile.)

Prior to the passage of MSRRA, military spouses were sometimes able to maintain their domicile in a particular state, or were sometimes required to change it, depending on the particular laws of the states in which you were living and had lived.  The active duty military member was permitted to maintain their domicile regardless of where they moved.  With the passage of MSRRA, military spouses are permitted to maintain their domicile in the same state as their active duty military member, or to establish domicile in the state they are residing.  There are two issues to that:  1)  MSRRA does not provide for a military spouse to recapture or obtain domicile in their active duty military member’s state, and 2)  military spouses may not choose another state that is not their active duty military member’s domicile or their actual residence state.

One factor that makes it easier for active duty military members to establish domicile is declaring it as their State of Legal Residency on the DD 2058.  Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a DD 2058 for spouses.  While the two phrases are often used interchangeably, the State of Legal Residency is not the same as the Home of Record.  The DD 2058 does not change the active duty military member’s Home of Record.  A Home of Record is used for travel and transportation allowances.  A State of Legal Residency is used for taxes, voting and other benefits.

In the short term, the problems with domicile make the benefits of MSRRA unavailable to many military spouses.  As the act is implemented, and individual states adjust their laws to align with the act, it should become easier and easier for military spouses and their active duty military members to align their domiciles to benefit from the provisions of MSRRA.

Because each state has their individual laws, you will have to do some research and see how to best work out your own situation.  the base legal offices are quickly picking up on the small details of the law and are continuing to provide some of the best information available.

I hope this helps!

About the Author

Kate Horrell
Kate Horrell is a military financial coach, mom of four teens, and Navy spouse. She has a background in taxes and mortgage banking, and a trove of experience helping other military families with their money. Follow her on twitter @realKateHorrell.

18 Comments on "Domicile and Residence, A MSRRA Issue"

  1. This is great info!! However, like you mentioned, it varies state to state. It seems like states with a larger military population are more understanding of the law. Virginia does not consider someone domiciled here just because they have a driver's license and vote, since they only reason I am here is to accompany my husband on orders. (<—and trust me..there is NO other reason I would ever live here, lol). So I am essentially rendered homeless because my home state won't take me (as it stands now), and VA says I don't belong here, but I can if I want to (which I don't). Ugh!! Such Chaos!! :)

  2. I have the same problem as the above reader. I feel "homeless" as far as domicile goes. We're in Hawaii where I work and vote, but on the HI tax website it says that military spouses are not domiciled here unless they plan on staying after their spoue has new orders/retires. But if I'm not a resident of Hawaii, I have no clue where I would be a resident of since I've moved around so much since the end of high school 8 years ago.

  3. My Husband's state of legal residence is Florida. Am I automatically a florida resident? We resided in FL from 2005-2008. My car is registered there and I currently have a Fl drivers license. However, We were married in NC in 2003. We moved back to NC in 2009 and I filed NC state income taxes this year. I am so confused!

  4. Kasi, you are not automatically a Florida resident. However, having maintained your DL there, and registering your car there, you seems should be good to claim FL residency. If it were me, I would look into getting a refund on your NC taxes :)

  5. I'm in the same boat. I met my husband when he was stationed in my home state of Colorado but he's a California resident. We moved to NC and I have 2 out of 3 requirements for MSRRA. So now, after all this, I still have to change my residency.

  6. So basically this law is not helpful for any "older" military families. I lived in/grew up in WI my entire life. I moved when I was 20 to live with my then boyfriend in New Mexico and moved again to Idaho before we ever got married (and well before 2009), thus having to claim residency in each of those states at the time of living there. And now there is no way I can ever get my WI residency back, even though we own land there and plan to retire there. So basically, I have to continue claiming residency in each new state we move to?

  7. My husband maintained his South Carolina residency ever since he joined the Coast Guard and before we were married. On the otherhand, I had moved from Georgia to Florida and took up residency with Florida once he got stationed and eventually got married. I have my car registered through Florida, have my Driver's License as Florida, and also plan to register for voting through this state. But seeing as how we just moved from Virginia would I not qualify for this Act for simply not having South Carolina as my residency?

  8. I wanted to get a job in CO, but it requires that I have a valid CO license. If I obtain a CO license, does that mean I will lose my residency in FL?

  9. My legal residence is Florida, but I no longer have a physical address due to my military change of duty station. I need to register my new car in Florida and do not know what physical address I am supposed to use on my Florida registration application.

  10. I'm military spouse, claim FL as my legal residence, own a house there and have FL drivers license. I am eligible and used MRSSA since 2009. My question is, we are in CA on orders and want to buy a house there. Will that change things? Thanks!

  11. We lived in WI when my son went into the Marines. We moved to AZ and he is stationed in NC. His driver's license is still WI, but the address is no longer our address. Should he get a AZ license while visiting us and declare AZ as his residence for taxes?

  12. I do taxes at a military base (for free). You need an amendment. Here is a paragraph from NC web site: The Act prohibits North Carolina from taxing the income earned for services performed in North Carolina by a spouse of a servicemember stationed in North Carolina if (1) the servicemember is present in North Carolina solely in compliance with military orders; (2) the spouse is in North Carolina solely to be with the servicemember; and (3) the spouse is domiciled in the same state as the servicemember. All three conditions must be met to qualify for exemption. You seem to be a FL resident….if so, this pertains to you. They tell you what to fill out on the NC web site. Hope this helps:-)

  13. I have a friend who is married to a Soldier and being told that she "adopted his home of record" when they married and therefore is not eligible for in-state tuition in the state where she grew up, her mother still lives, where she is licensed to drive, and receives mail. She never took any steps to change her home of record or state of residence. The difference in tuition is thousands of dollars and prevents her from attending the school she wants. We are currently overseas. Any thoughts on how she could apeal this?

  14. My wife is about to go into the Navy. I plan to stay in our home in NC for the foreseeable future because of my job and other obligations. Will that be a problem for us?

  15. I moved to NC where my military husband is stationed. I moved here 8 months ago, into his house and we recently married. I work in NC and have since moving here. Even though he owns a house in NC, his permenant residency is Nevada. I have never owned property but my license and registration and voter ID are from PA. Would my Permenant Residencey now be Nevada as well…or PA or NC?? Trying to get my NC tax form updated and I'm totally confused.

  16. After living in FL for over 10+ years, my Coast Guard boyfriend and I were stationed in CA. We were not married when we moved to CA and since my FL drivers license cracked in half, I got a CA license. I am still employed by a Florida company and they changed my residence to CA, for which I now pay CA state income taxes. Now that we are married, I want to reclaim FL residency with my husband so I don't have to pay state income tax. Any one have any tips for me?

  17. Kelly, residency is determined by much more than just driver's licenses. Where do you own property, where are your vehicles registered, where are you registered to vote, and where do you actually vote?

    Your company can not just decide to change your residency for you – this is an action that you have to take yourself. However, if you were providing your company with a California address and did not establish your Florida residency, it would make sense that they changed your withholding to California. If you are, in fact, still a Florida resident, you can file a California non-resident tax return to have those taxes refunded to you.

    There are some details that make the question a little cloudy, but it would benefit you to be sure that you've pursued this as much as is legally possible.

  18. As a military spouse, since 2001 I have held a VA driver's license and voter's registration (and voted in presidential elections). For the past 3 years I have owned a home, paid income taxes, and registered a car in VA. In these last 13 years, we have been stationed overseas for 7 years, but we have returned to posts in VA. My husband is a resident of another state. For the 3 years prior to my son beginning college, we will have orders overseas. Do I qualify as a VA resident for college tuition purposes even though I don't satisfy the physical presence test? I think I qualify in all other ways, and I know that if my husband gets orders to metro DC next he also will qualify. But I can't find any info from colleges regarding whether there is an exemption for the 1-year physical presence test for VA residency for military spouses with regards to college tuition in case my husband doesn't get orders to VA. Can you help?

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