In talking with military families about taxes and residences and drivers' licenses, one little thing keeps coming up: the misuse of the term home of record. It probably isn't a big thing in the greater scheme of life, but it certainly can make a simple conversation a lot more complicated if one person is using it correctly and one person is using it incorrectly. It's often confused with state of legal residence or domicile, but that's a different thing and often what people are talking about when they say home of record.
A military service member's home of record is the place from which they entered the military. It is not necessarily "where they're from." For example, If I am from Maryland, but went to college in Florida and entered the military in Florida, then Florida is my home of record. Home of records don't change unless your information was entered incorrectly, or you leave the military and then rejoin. Homes of record are used for certain travel allowances, particularly when leaving military service. Military spouses do not have a home of record.
A state of legal residence, or domicile, or legal domicile, is the place where the service member thinks of as home, the state where you intend to live after you leave the military. Your state of legal residence may change throughout your life. However, you can't just pick a place, there are rules and steps that need to be taken. In order to legally change your state of legal residence, you must:
- be physically present in the new state, AND
- you must intend to treat that location as your permanent home; AND
- you must intend to abandon your old state of legal residence.
Ways to show that you intend to make a state your legal residence include:
- obtaining a driver's license,
- register your vehicle,
- register to vote,
- actually voting,
- paying state tax,
- reflecting that state in your will,
- any other actions that could be construed as showing intent to remain a resident of a state.
The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act allows a military member to retain a state of legal residence or domicile even though military orders have caused them to move to another state. However, that military member must be careful to not take any action that might give the impression that they have actually changed their domicile to the new state. I see and hear three things that military members do all the time that make the question of domicile tricky: changing their driver's license, changing their vehicle registration, and claiming a homestead exemption on a property. The last one is particularly important. In most cases, when you claim a homestead exemption on your house, you are declaring that you are a legal resident of that state. If you are claiming or accepting the homestead exemption on a property in one state, but declaring your domicile in another state, you may have problems at some point in the future.
Military spouses have the same domicile requirements as active duty members, but their right to retain a previous domicile is limited. In the past, a military spouse was required to change their domicile with each PCS move. In 2009, the Military Spouses Residency Relief Act (MSRRA) became law, and it gives military spouses the right to retain their state of legal residence as long as it is the same state as their active duty spouse AND as long as the spouse is living with the active duty member as the direct result of military orders. Unfortunately, MSRRA does not have any provisions to help military spouses obtain legal residency in the state where their active duty husband or wife is a resident. As a result, military couples must hope for orders to the service member's state of residency so that the two parties can match their domicile, or, if living in a state where the couple intends to reside, then both parties can change their domicile and then keep them together. (2017 update: there is currently legislation that would permit a military spouse to adopt the domicile of their active duty husband or wife. We'll see if it passes!)
On one hand, this is really confusing, but it's really actually quite simple if you break it down. Questions, comments? You know I love 'em!