Since 1999, May has been designated National Military Appreciation Month to encourage us to honor past and present military members and their families. This is the perfect time to highlight specific laws meant to protect servicemembers from legal troubles or disadvantages while they are in military service. The federal Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), the South Carolina Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (South Carolina SCRA), and the South Carolina Military Parent Equal Protection Act (MPEPA) are laws specifically intended to protect service members and their families.
Federal Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA)
The SCRA provides benefits and protections to those in “military service” which includes: (1) full-time active duty members of the five military branches (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard); (2) Reservists on federal active duty; and (3) members of the National Guard on federal orders for more than 30 days.
Some of the benefits and protections under the SCRA are included below, each of which has certain conditions which may apply and could limit their application to individual circumstances:
- Reduced interest rates
- Postponement of foreclosures
- Deferred income taxes
- Eviction prevention
- Protection against default judgments
- Postponed civil court matters
- Termination of residential lease agreements
- Termination of automobile leases
- Termination of phone/internet/cable services
- Prevention of repossession of property
- Protection against storage liens
- Protections against adverse actions from creditors or insurers
South Carolina Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (South Carolina SCRA)
The South Carolina SCRA was designed to expand and supplement the federal SCRA to cover circumstances where the federal SCRA might not apply to SC National Guard service. It expands the definition of “military service” to include full time training, annual training, State Active Duty, and attendance at a service school in addition to military service under the federal SCRA. It also extends protections to dependents of servicemembers and expands some of the contracts that may be terminated when a servicemember receives military orders.
South Carolina Military Parent Equal Protection Act (MPEPA)
The MPEPA provides protections for parents who are in military service, but the definition of military service under the MPEPA is not as broad as the definition under the SCRA and only includes deployments that would not allow a family member to accompany the military parent.
One of the protections provided under the MPEPA is that Courts cannot enter a final order modifying the terms of custody or visitation in an existing order until 90 days after the enlisted parent is released from military service. Also, a military parent’s absence or relocation due to military service cannot be the sole reason for a court to permanently modify an existing custody or visitation order.
If a servicemember is away on “military service”, the Family Court can issue a temporary order making reasonable accommodations for that parent’s absence. The order will terminate when the military parent returns. If there is no existing order, the Court must hold an expedited temporary hearing to establish temporary custody, visitation, and support.
Also, when military parents are called to service, either parent can request that the Family Court issue an order temporarily modifying child support based upon any increase or decrease in pay during the deployment. After the deployment ends, child support automatically reverts to the original amount before deployment.
This is only a broad overview of some of the benefits and protections provided to servicemembers by these laws. The details of each of these laws can be complicated and it is important to get professional advice on how they might apply to individual circumstances. South Carolina Legal Services may be able to help. We provide free legal help to low-income individuals. To see if you qualify for our services, call 1-888-346-5592 or apply online at https://www.lawhelp.org/sc/online-intake.