Military Legal Resources Available to You

Hand stamping paperwork

The information contained on this website is designed to educate and inform service members and their families on their personal legal affairs. Nothing contained in the website is a substitute for the competent legal advice of a licensed attorney. Service members and their families seeking legal advice should consult the staff of the nearest installation Legal Assistance Office.

When legal issues arise, service members and their families have a number of free resources at the ready. Legal assistance is available whether you need an expert to review a contract or help with estate planning. If you need to finalize deployment-related legal documents, legal assistance can help. You can also get advice on mediation for child custody. Here are some of your options.

Free legal help from the legal assistance office

Your installation’s legal assistance office can serve you in many situations where you may need legal advice. They may also help in completing legal documents. Representation in court is not available for service members or family members. However, active and retired service members and family members are eligible for free legal assistance, including:

  • Drafting powers of attorney
  • Drafting wills
  • Guiding estate planning
  • Providing family law advice (in areas such as adoption, marriage, divorce, alimony and property division)
  • Reviewing contracts and leases
  • Providing notary services
  • Offering consumer advice (ranging from debt management and credit reporting to ID theft)
  • Helping with taxes
  • Assisting in immigration and naturalization issues
  • Advising in civil lawsuits
  • Protecting service member rights and responsibilities
  • Advising clients on misdemeanors and minor traffic offenses

The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act offers help with a range of rights and benefits, from interest rate reductions to eviction protection. Know your rights and available perks.

For document translation services, contact Military OneSource Specialty Consultations. You can get help translating a lease during an overseas move, or with documents such as a birth certificate or marriage license. Call a Military OneSource consultant at 800-342-9647 for document translation or legal matters.

Where legal assistance offices cannot help

There are other issues where legal assistance offices won’t be able to assist. They include:

  • Providing legal advice to third parties or opposing parties on the same issue
  • Claims against the government and serious criminal matters
  • Legal matters concerning your privately owned business
  • In-court representation (although legal assistance attorneys generally do not represent clients in court, some service branches offer the Expanded Legal Assistance Program, which allows for in-court representation in limited cases). See below for help finding a private civilian lawyer.

Use the Armed Forces Legal Assistance Locator to find the nearest legal assistance office.

Help with other legal matters: private lawyers, military defense counsel

For criminal matters or other issues not available through your installation’s legal assistance office, you’ll most likely want to consider a private civilian attorney. If you’re facing discharge or criminal prosecution by the military, you can seek assistance from military defense counsel.

Seeking nonmilitary counsel: Services provided within a legal assistance office are free. You may also need to pay for private civilian counsel. If so, ask your legal assistance attorney if your case qualifies for pro bono or reduced fee representation. If not, ask about private civilian legal representation available in your community.

Seeking military defense counsel: Military defense counsels are legal offices separate from your local legal assistance office, and are available if you are facing prosecution by the military. As a service member, you have the right to be represented at your court-martial.

Military defense counsels are certified judge advocates who provide independent legal representation and confidential legal advice for service members suspected of an offense or facing adverse administrative actions.

Military defense counsel can help you in many situations, including pretrial investigations, investigations, and administrative separation proceedings. They can also help with letters of reprimand, denial or revocation of a security clearance, and court-martial proceedings.

Each of the service branches has a different name for the defense counsel offices:

Find the contact information for your nearest defense counsel in your installation telephone directory. Your installation trial defense service office, defense services office or area defense counsel office may have a local website with helpful information.

The information contained on this website is designed to educate and inform service members and their families on their personal legal affairs. Nothing contained in the website is a substitute for the competent legal advice of a licensed attorney. Service members and their families seeking legal advice should consult the staff of the nearest installation Legal Assistance Office.

Servicemembers Civil Relief Act

Service member using notarizer

The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act provides financial and legal protections for active-duty service members, including National Guard and reserve members, and their families. Because details of the SCRA are complicated, service members and their families are encouraged to contact the nearest legal assistance office if they need help meeting their financial obligations.

Learn more about the important SCRA benefits to take full advantage of the law’s protections for you and your family members.

Get free legal and financial guidance.

SCRA provides both financial and legal protections for service members and their families. If you feel SCRA applies to you, contact help at no cost.

Free Legal Help

Free Financial Help

Overview of SCRA Protections

The SCRA offers protections for service members and their families in many different areas ranging from mortgages to life insurance. It’s important to get professional advice on how the SCRA applies to individual circumstances. For example, the SCRA frequently makes certain rights available conditional upon whether your ability to meet certain obligations is “materially affected” by military service. Whether you are “materially affected” can mean different things in different situations.

  • Reduced interest rates — Creditors must reduce the interest rate on debts to 6% for liabilities incurred before you entered active duty. If the debt is a mortgage, the reduced rate extends for one year after active-military service. The reduced interest rate applies to credit card debts, car loans, business obligations, some student loans and other debts, as well as fees, service charges and renewal fees. Creditors can challenge this provision if they believe your ability to pay a rate higher than 6% is not materially affected by your military service.
  • Postponement of foreclosures — No sale, foreclosure or seizure of property for nonpayment of a preservice mortgage debt is valid if made during or within nine months after your service on active duty, unless carrying out a valid court order. This can provide tremendous protections from foreclosure in the many states permitting foreclosures to proceed without involving the courts. If you miss a mortgage payment, you should contact your legal assistance office immediately.
  • Deferred income taxes — The Internal Revenue Service and state and local taxing authorities must defer your income taxes due before or during your military service if your ability to pay the income tax is materially affected by military service. No interest or penalty can be added because of this type of deferral.
  • Eviction prevention — You and your family cannot be evicted for nonpayment of rent without a court order regardless of the language of your rental agreement or local laws. This protection applies to residences where the monthly rent is below a certain amount. Contact your nearest legal assistance office for the most up-to-date figures. If your ability or your family’s ability to pay rent is materially affected by your military service, you may apply to the court, and the court must either grant a 90-day delay in eviction proceedings or adjust obligations under the lease in a way agreeable to all parties.
  • Protection against default judgments — If, while on active duty, a civil action, a civil proceeding or an administrative proceeding is filed against you, the judge must appoint a lawyer to represent you in your absence. The court must grant a delay, or stay, of at least 90 days if it determines there may be a defense to the action and the defense cannot be presented without your attendance.
  • Postponed civil court matters — If you cannot participate in a civil court action or administrative proceeding because of your military service, you can request a 90-day delay, or stay, in the proceeding. You are automatically entitled to this delay if you follow all of the requirements. The judge, magistrate or hearing officer can grant an additional 90-day stay. Proceedings may include actions for divorce, child paternity and support cases, and foreclosure proceedings. This protection does not apply to any criminal court or criminal administrative proceedings.
  • Protection for small-business owners — If you own a small business, your nonbusiness assets and military pay are protected from creditors while you are on active duty. This applies to business debts or obligations.
  • Termination of residential lease agreements — You may terminate your residential lease, along with other types of leases including agricultural, professional and business, by delivering a written notice of termination. This applies if you entered into a lease and then started military service, or entered into a lease during military service and then received permanent change of station orders. It also applies when you have orders to deploy with a military unit or as an individual in support of a military operation for not less than 90 days. You must provide a written notice of termination and a copy of your military orders, hand-delivered or by return-receipt mail, to the property owner.
  • Termination of automobile leases — You may terminate an automobile lease under certain specific circumstances. Here are some examples of circumstances: You signed the lease agreement before being called to active duty, signed a lease agreement and then received permanent change-of-station orders outside the continental United States, or signed a lease agreement and then received orders to deploy.
  • Termination of phone service — You may request termination of cell phone service or phone exchange service if you entered a contract before receiving military orders to relocate for not less than 90 days to a location that does not support the contract.
  • Prevention of repossession of property — Property cannot be repossessed for nonpayment or a contract terminated for any payment gaps prior to or during your military service without a court order.
  • Life insurance coverage protection — Life insurance companies cannot terminate coverage or require payment of additional premiums if you are in military service. Increases in premiums based on age in individual term insurance is not covered by SCRA. An insurer also may not limit or restrict coverage for any activity required by military service.
  • Suspension of professional liability insurance — Professionals in health care, legal services or another profession, as determined by the Secretary of Defense, called to active duty may suspend their professional liability insurance policy by written request to the insurance carrier. Premiums for suspended insurance do not have to be paid, and any premiums paid by an individual while on active duty must be refunded. To reinstate suspended insurance, the individual must send a request to the insurance carrier within 30 days of release from active duty.
  • Voting rights in your home state — Like your tax residency, your residency for state, federal or local voting purposes is unaffected by your absence from the state due to military service. Similar protections exist for spouses.

Waivers of rights under SCRA

It is possible to waive your rights under the SCRA. Only written waivers signed during or after a service member’s period of military service are effective. If you sign a waiver of your SCRA rights before you enter military service, the waiver will be considered invalid. Whether you are considering signing a waiver document at any time, either before, during or after military service, it is extremely important to read the document carefully and sign only after obtaining the advice of a qualified attorney.