By Lizann Lightfoot
Sometimes, a military spouse needs to take care of business—legal business. It could be something simple like getting a document notarized. Or perhaps you run into a dispute with your landlord. Maybe you want to get some paperwork organized before a deployment. Or you and your spouse are considering a divorce. In any of these situations, the base legal office is available to help.
These offices exist primarily to serve active duty service members and help them with a variety of legal situations that might arise during a military career. However, legal services are also available to a dependent spouse. In fact, a military spouse can use the legal services of any military base, regardless of branch. And most services are free! Some larger bases have walk-in hours to handle common issues while smaller bases may require an appointment. If you need legal help with any of the following situations, make the base legal office your first stop.
Pre-Deployment: Military spouses can attend a pre-deployment brief to help them prepare legal or financial paperwork that they will need to use during deployment. The base legal office can answer questions about specific situations and help you and your service member choose the correct Power of Attorney.
Wills and Power of Attorney: Before deploying, service members are required to draft a will and PoA. But a military spouse can also create their own will, Power of Attorney, or Family Care Plan at the base legal office. These are not required, but can certainly be useful in certain situations.
Notary Public: A notary is an official who can notarize a document. They stamp it to verify that you signed it in front of them. An off-base notary will typically charged $25 or more. At the base legal office, the service is free. Some military units also have their own administrative office that will notarize something for a military dependent, too.
Family Law Issues: Military families face a variety of unique family situations. If you are not yet married, but your service member wants to add your child onto TRICARE coverage, he will need to “establish parentage” by filing paperwork. (This is different from a DNA paternity test.) If there are children from another marriage, child support issues can be resolved at base legal. The office can also assist with adoption paperwork and name changes after marriage.
Divorce Class and Divorce Mediation: Sometimes military couples consider getting divorced. Not only is this a painful decision, but it can be complicated by different state laws. Couples who want to know their options can attend a divorce class together. The seminar reviews the process and paperwork that need to be completed, especially about military-specific issues like benefits and pension. For individual attention, divorce mediation is a private consultation that reviews your financial situation and gives legal guidance. To file your divorce, you will be referred to a lawyer off-base.
Consumer Law: The base legal office can assist a military spouse in many types of financial situations, including billing errors, credit card debt, identity theft, or disputes about contracts like auto loans. If you or your spouse get into financial trouble, visit the base legal office to explore your options. The attorneys on base can give you legal guidance, but they cannot represent you in court.
Contract Disputes: Did you know you can break a lease because of a PCS or deployment? Or that there are specific situations that allow a landlord to keep your security deposit? The Base Legal Office can review your contract, let you know your rights, and help settle the issue, whether you are a renter, homeowner, or landlord.
Citizenship/ Immigration: If you or your spouse is not yet an American citizen, then the legal office will help smooth the pathway to citizenship. They can advise you of your rights, and offer naturalization classes to complete requirements.
As a final note, there are some legal issues that are not handled by the base legal office. For military spouses, these include traffic tickets, personal business issues, living trusts, criminal matters, and bankruptcy. If you aren’t sure whether the base legal office can help you, then just call them and ask. Their services are a free resource to military spouses and can save you a lot of time during stressful situations.
Lizann Lightfoot is the Seasoned Spouse, a military wife of 9 years who has been with her husband since before Boot Camp—15 years ago! Together they have been through 6 different deployments and 4 different duty stations (including 1 overseas in Spain). Lizann spends her days at home wrangling their 4 young children, cooking somewhat healthy meals, writing about military life, and wondering where the family will end up next. She is the author of the book ‘Welcome to Rota,’ and of the Seasoned Spouse blog. Follow her on Twitter. Find military encouragement on her Facebookpage. Find inspiration for care packages, deployments, and more on her Pinterest page.