The Military Spouse Residency Relief Act (MSRRA) of 2009 is the first of two amendments to the Servicemember Civil Relief Act (SCRA) that extend privileges and protections to service members’ spouses. Amendments under the Veterans Benefits and Transition Act of 2018 expanded those benefits.
According to MilitaryOneSource, “MSSRA allows military spouses to maintain legal residence in the state where they lived before a permanent change of station move with their active-duty service member.”
Due to frequent moves, active-duty service members may not live in the place they consider home. The SCRA allows them to maintain that home as their legal residence, or domicile, even if they have moved due to a permanent change of station. The MSRRA allows their spouses to do the same for tax purposes, to exercise certain land rights and to vote.
Domicile (legal residence) does not necessarily mean where you currently live. It refers to the place you treat as a permanent home. Service members and spouses can’t arbitrarily choose their domicile state – they must establish and maintain it. This includes having lived there, holding a driver’s license or vehicle registration, filing taxes or voting. Under the MSRRA, the spouse must declare the same legal residence as the service member if they live together. If they live in different states, MSRRA does not apply.
Note: This law is complicated. Always consult with a tax professional or attorney if you are uncertain about state guidelines regarding MSRRA eligibility.
MSRRA Eligibility Factors
According to MilitaryOneSource, military spouses must meet the following criteria to be eligible to maintain their legal residence under MSRRA:
- The service member is living on military orders in a state that is not their resident state.
- The spouse is in that state solely to live with the service member.
- Both the service member and spouse have the same resident state.
If the service member is deployed and the spouse is not allowed to follow, the spouse will continue to be eligible under MSRRA. The military treats this as a travel or temporary duty assignment situation.
Benefits of the Military Spouses Residency Relief Act
The MSSRA makes it a little easier for spouses to move when their service member receives permanent change of station orders. The benefits include:
- State income tax: The military spouse’s income is taxed in the domicile state. This simplifies tax filing when they move to a new state partway through the year. Note: Both the spouse and service member may need to file and pay taxes in the state in which they earn certain types of other income, such as income from a rental property.
- Voting: A military spouse may vote in their spouse’s legal state of residence.
- Personal property: The MSRRA protects personal property, such as vehicles, from taxation in the state in which the service member and spouse live. Taxation occurs in the state of residence.
Limitations of the Military Spouse Residency Relief Act
As mentioned, neither the service member nor the spouse can arbitrarily choose a state of residence. They must have established and maintained a state of residence before moving into a different state. According to MilitaryOneSource, this is proven through contacts, such as owning property, voting, registering vehicles, etc. in the domicile state.
Other limitations of the MSRRA are:
- The spouse did not inherit the domicile of the service member upon marriage under MSRRA. However, the Veterans Benefits and Transition Act of 2018 amended the SCRA to allow spouses to declare their service members’ states of residence regardless of when they were married.
- If the spouse chooses to remain behind when the service member is reassigned to another state, the spouse would lose MSRRA protection.
- State laws may vary on what circumstances establish a domicile in another state and what proof is sufficient.
- State law, not the MSRRA, determines whether a military spouse must obtain a driver’s license in the state you live in, if different from your state of residence.
Veterans Benefits and Transition Act of 2018
The Veterans Benefits and Transition Act allows spouses to declare their service members’ states of residence regardless of when they were married. This applies to voting as well as to income tax.
The Military Spouse Residency Relief Act (MSRRA) can be confusing. Fortunately for military spouses, legal assistance and free tax help are available. Contact your local center of legal aid for additional support.
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