Military members and their spouses do not automatically acquire a new “domicile” when the relocate (“PCS”) to a new duty station in a new State.
First, let’s distinguish the terms “residence” from “domicile.” A residence is an address or place where you live. A domicile is the one residence that you consider to be your permanent home. To better understand the concept, think of the rich and famous. They may have a primary residence, the one they consider their domicile, in California, where they live the bulk of the year while they work. They may have a home (i.e. second residence) in Colorado where they live for several weeks or month in winter for skiing and other winter sports. They may have a home in Florida (i.e. a third residence) where they live for several weeks or months in summer for waters sports and the beach life. In this scenario, a person could have three residences, but only one of them constitutes a domicile.
In law, your domicile generally is established by your “intent.” It’s the one place you consider your permanent home. Now, back to military members and military spouses.
If, for example, a military member joins the service from his home state of Nebraska, then Nebraska may remain his domicile no matter how many times and to where he PCSs. The military member can keep a Nebraska driver’s license and vote for State and Federal elections in Nebraska (often by applying for an absentee ballot).
The same goes for a military spouse. If that same military member met and married the spouse while on duty in Arkansas (where the spouse grew up), the spouse can keep Arkansas as her domicile if she so chooses. She can keep an Arkansas driver’s license and vote in Arkansas for State and Federal elections (often by applying for an absentee ballot).
The right to maintain your domicile despite multiple relocations driven by military duty is a right established in Federal law as part of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act and the Military Spouse Residency Relief Act.1 While not required to change domicile due to a military move, the military member and/or spouse may choose to do so, if they wish. The point remains that a change of domicile is not mandatory with any move.
A military member’s or spouse’s domicile can have implications during military divorce. For more information or questions related to your specific situation, speak with a qualified military divorce or family law attorney.
Author Jim Cramp is a retired active duty colonel and the founder and principal attorney at the Cramp Law Firm, PLLC. The firm provides a spectrum of family law-related services to clients in the greater San Antonio region, across the United States and throughout the world. The firms also provides Wills and Estates and Probate services.
Note1 See 50 App. U.S.C. § 595(a) regarding the military member’s rights, and § 595(b) regarding the spouse’s rights.