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
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 with 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 method 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 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.
Kate Kashman is a military spouse, personal finance junkie, and author of The Paycheck Chronicles blog at Military.com. She has four usually lovely daughters, two cats, and one husband. To read more from Kate at The Paycheck Chronicles, click here.
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