Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Easing the Burden on Military Spouses

Fort Hunt has always been a popular community for military families and growing up, I always had friends coming and going as their parents were moved around the country.

As a child, your perspective is focused upon your friend who is leaving, but not the effects upon the entire family  As a practicing family law attorney, I really come to appreciate the emotional and economic stresses that transfers, deployments, and the combat injuries can place on the entire family. 

For example, whenever a military family goes through a divorce, the issue of spousal support frequently comes up if only one spouse is serving in uniform.  Due to frequent location transfers, it is often very difficult for the non-military spouse to develop a substantial career or earning history.  Unemployment rates for military spouses are three times the rate of civilian spouses. Some studies suggest 90% of military spouses are underemployed.  Frequently, it is difficult for military spouses to start to focus on a career until their active duty spouse has retired.  

On July 1, 2014, the Supreme Court of Virginia took one step to help change that for attorneys who are married to active duty members of the Armed Forces.  After a public comment period, Rule 1A:8 became valid in Virginia.  This new Rule provides that the dependent spouse of an active duty member of the military can become provisionally licensed to practice law in Virginia if:
  • They are licensed to practice law in another state; 
  • Hold a juris doctor from an accredited law school; 
  • Achieved a score on the MPRE exam that would constitute a passing score in Virginia; 
  • Is in good standing; 
  • Not subject to discipline; 
  • Physically residing in Virginia;
  • Submits to a character examination; 
  • Has never failed the Virginia Bar Exam; 
  • Completes 12 hours of Virginia continuing legal education classes; 
  • Reads the Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct; 
  • Pays a fee; and 
  • Practices law under the supervision of a local counsel.
Unlike some other licensed professions, licenses to practice law are quickly obtainable.  Without such a rule, a military spouse who is an attorney would have to proceed through the Virginia bar admission procedures to be licensed to practice - this can take over six months due to the time necessary to qualify for the Virginia bar, taking the bar, and the grading timeframe (I think I applied in March or April and was licensed in October).

The latest issue of Virginia Lawyer which is published by the Virginia State Bar has a great article about this written by the Deputy Communications Director for the Military Spouse JD Network. It contains some excellent anecdotes which illustrate the problem.  

Virginia now joins seven other states granting this privilege to military spouses - Alabama, Alaska, California, Delaware, Florida, Geogia, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Maryland, South Carolina, and Washington.  Hopefully, this will small step will provide some measure of help ease the transition as military families move around the United States and the world.  


  1. There are many issues and concerns in pursuing a career for military spouse because of frequent movement. The grant privilege to several states for military spouses is really good. I really hope that things will make more easy and continue to be in a good process for military spouses who wanted to get a career.

  2. This is excellent news. I would hope other licensing bodies in the state will follow the example in their licensing procedures.