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December 03, 2020

Military Legal Assistance and Civil Matters

Many civil legal matters can be handled by a military legal assistance attorney at no cost to servicemembers. Civil matters include landlord-tenant disputes, wills and trust, family law (including divorce, separation, custody, and child support), naturalization, consumer issues (including debt collection, consumer scams, identity theft), powers of attorneys, advanced medical directives (living wills), and asserting your rights under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.  The following questions and answers should provide you some guidance on these issues. 

Are there any civil matters for which military legal assistance attorneys cannot help me?

Yes. There are also legal areas in which a military legal assistance attorney may NOT be able to help you, including:

  • claims against the government;
  • military Administrative issues such as fitness report rebuttals or Article 138 Complaints (This varies somewhat by branch.);
  • legal matters concerning your privately owned business. (Most legal assistance offices will assist you with preparing a lease of your privately-owned home when you deploy or are reassigned, but not with other matters relating to any business you may own or operate.)

For these types of legal matters, you will need to contact a civilian attorney for assistance. See our Directory of Programs for programs in your area that can connect you to a civilian attorney.

I am in the military and need to talk to an attorney about a legal problem. What do I do?

You should start by contacting your nearest military legal assistance office for an appointment. Do not seek help ONLY from the nearest legal assistance office for your branch of service. Every military legal assistance office provides free legal assistance to eligible personnel regardless of his or her branch of service. For example, a Marine can obtain legal assistance from an Army JAG, just as a soldier can receive legal assistance from a Marine JAG.

How do I find the nearest military assistance office?

Go to the Armed Forces Legal Assistance website. This site contains a locator based on zip code. Even if you do not live close to military installations, start with the locator. There may be a smaller legal assistance office nearby which you are unaware of. If there are no legal assistance offices near you, consider contacting a local legal clinic, which are often sponsored by law schools and offer free legal services to military personnel. Another option is to contact your local legal aid office or your local bar association to see if either offer free or low cost services to military personnel. Finally, find out if your state attorney general’s office provides free civil legal services to military personnel. You can check out the state-by-state listings of such programs on our Directory of Programs.

I’ve made an appointment with my military legal assistance office. Will I be charged for the legal help?

There is no charge for services provided by military legal assistance offices. All services provided by a military legal assistance lawyer are free to eligible personnel. If your legal problem involves costs or fees (for example, a filing fee to file a case with the court), you will probably have to pay these charges.

Keep in mind that military legal assistance attorneys cannot provide you the full range of legal help that you may need. For example, the military lawyer typically will not represent you in court. If you are in need of more help than the military legal assistance lawyer can provide you, he or she may be able to connect you to a non-military lawyer who can represent you pro bono (free) or for a fee.

The ABA provides a resource to military legal assistance lawyers, the ABA Military Pro Bono Project, which helps military lawyers easily connect their clients to pro bono attorneys who provide representation for no fee.

I am a military spouse. Am I eligible to use the free legal services provided by my military legal assistance office?

Yes. You are eligible for the same services provided to active personnel—subject to the availability of legal assistance attorneys. Active duty personnel, particularly those in the junior enlisted ranks and those preparing for deployment, have first priority.

Is anyone else eligible for free legal services provided by military legal assistance offices?

Yes. Reservists who have been activated, are preparing to deploy or have recently returned from deployment, and members of the National Guard on active duty for thirty days or more, as well as their family members with DoD ID cards, are eligible for legal assistance. Retired military personnel and their dependents with DoD ID cards are also eligible—subject to resource availability.

Military legal assistance may also be available to survivors of eligible service members and retirees, certain overseas civilian employees and their family members, and allied forces service members serving with U.S. Armed Forces in CONUS and their family members. Contact your nearest military legal assistance office for further details on eligibility.

What kind of issues can a military lawyer help me with?

Legal assistance attorneys can provide you legal advice and assistance in a number of legal areas, including:

  • Drafting wills
  • Drafting powers of attorney
  • Drafting advanced medical directives (living wills)
  • Reviewing contracts and leases
  • Notary services
  • Estate planning advice
  • Advice on family law matters, including custody
  • Tax assistance
  • Advice on credit and lending issues
  • Information on immigration and naturalization
  • Advice on the Service Members Civil Relief Act (SCRA)
  • Advice on the Uniform Employment and Reemployment Rights Act
  • Advice on landlord-tenant disputes
  • Advice on minor traffic tickets
  • Help in preparing for small-claims court

Keep in mind, as mentioned above, that the military legal assistance attorney may be limited in how much he or she can do to help you with a legal problem, and the lawyer may need to refer you to a civilian attorney for you to fully resolve your problem.