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Mission: Family | Legal guide spells out rights, reveals resources

Jul. 8, 2013 - 08:41PM   |  
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An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as the saying goes. The American Bar Association’s new “Legal Guide for Military Families: Everything You Need to Know About Family Law, Estate Planning, and the Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act” aims to deliver that ounce of prevention to help troops and families avoid problems along the road of military life.

The book explains how military legal assistance attorneys can help in civil matters such as landlord-tenant disputes, family law issues such as divorce and child custody matters, contracts and leases, and consumer issues such as scams. It points to resources for finding a civilian attorney, including possible free assistance for those who qualify. A collaborative effort of ABA attorneys, the book also explains what military attorneys can do in criminal cases.

The authors provide perspective on how the Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act offers protections when military duty — such as relocation — affects such things as auto and housing leases and cellphone contracts.

Eight pages are devoted to marriage, including a checklist of common requirements for a marriage license and federal benefits available to those in same-sex marriages.

“The decision to get married is a serious personal and legal decision,” the authors write. Their best implied argument for discussing these issues before marriage might be the fact that 64 pages of the book — 17 percent of its 372 pages — are devoted to issues related to divorce in the military. These include where to file for divorce, division of military pensions, child custody, child support, state military custody laws and domestic violence.

The book provides information about your rights and steps to help you make the right decisions about a variety of financial and legal issues. Some examples:

Housing. Basics of the landlord/tenant relationship, explanation of housing benefits, basics of real estate lending.

Vehicles. Researching and selecting a vehicle and the total cost of owning it, negotiating the purchase price, applying for a loan before shopping, the cost of borrowing money, what to do if things go wrong with the vehicle.

Credit. Steps for establishing good credit, understanding your credit report, what to include in a billing dispute letter, consequences of failure to pay debts, consumer rights in dealing with debt collectors.

It’s not the kind of book you sit and read all the way through at once. But it’s a handy compilation of basic military-related legal advice that could help you avoid some headaches when legal situations arise.■

Karen Jowers is the wife of a military retiree.

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