Relief for Military Spouses

All of us post WW II-ers took for granted that portion of the Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act (now termed the more politically correct, inclusive, and New Age “Servicemembers Civil Relief Act”) that allowed us to keep our home-state legal domicile for purposes of voting and taxation when assigned elsewhere.  During the course of a career many of us somehow found a new legal “home” in those states that did not have an income tax, or that exempted income earned out-of-state.  It was not uncommon to make it through an entire career without paying any state income tax and, for the exceptionally devious, with a driver’s license that had technically expired in 1978.

Not so our spouses.  If you were assigned to the International House of Waffles (aka the Pentagon), and you lived in the Military Ghetto of Burke, Virginia, while your non-military spouse worked in the more soul-satisfying International House of Pancakes, her income was aggressively (and invariably successfully) pursued by the Commonwealth of Virginia.  In fact, such was Virginia’s ardor for the military spouse that they would continue to consider her a domiciliary (for tax purposes) well after you’d both left the MGOB and your respective jobs in IHO[P]/IHO[W].  The non-military spouse might also be required to get an in-state driver’s license and vehicle tags because the ever-welcoming embrace of Virginia was suffocatingly comprehensive.  Why? The Civil Relief Act did not cover spouses.  Worse, in taxing the non-military spouse’s income, state taxing authorities would often tax it at the marginal rate that included the military spouse’s income, even though they couldn’t tax that income directly.

For many years MOAA and other service organizations lobbied unsuccessfully to correct this and to give both husband and wife the same exemptions.  And this year they finally succeeded. Last Veterans’ Day the president signed the Military Spouses Residency Relief Act into law.  The law amended the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act to add non-military spouses to the protected class. Henceforth, the non-military spouse will be entitled to the same benefits and exemptions as the military member.  That is, non-military spouses will not be deemed to have lost their legal domicile if they accompany their spouses to another state or location pursuant to military orders. They can still vote in their state of domicile and participate in local elections. They will be exempt from income and personal property taxation of the state in which they are resident by reason of military or naval orders.  Shoot, they might even take a stab at keeping the same tatterdemalion license for twenty-six years.  So, this month, a crisp and appreciative salute to the tireless people at MOAA and elsewhere who work to improve the quality of life of our military families.

(PSST.  Wanna see how long then-Capt Morgan’s hair and lamb-chop sideburns were in his last year at the University of Texas law school in 1978?)  No? Didn’t think so.