Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Military Spouse Residency Relief Act + Drivers' Licenses

Moving here is still an adjustment, and as it turns out ... what to do about retaining a previous jursdiction's driver's license, vehicle registration, title and insurance is evidently not only confusing to me, but to others as well! I've learned a lot through this journey, so I'm happy to share what I know in the hopes you can avoid the head scratching and headache that I've been sorting through for the last 90 days or so.

Question: Does the Military Spouse Residency Relief Act signed in 2009 by the Obama Administration apply to driver's licenses?
A: Short answer? It depends. (Great, right?) I wish I had an end-all-be-all determining factor, but the reality is that all of this is decided by your state's government and whether or not they will allow a service member, their spouse and/or dependants operate on an out of state driver's license. While the state of Maine, for example, allows me to carry, operate and annually renew a Maine license with my DC address on it ... other jurisdictions may not. Most governments I've found, are flexibile and understanding and will do what they can.

Question: If I cannot carry an out-of-state license from the home domicile that both my spouse and I share, do I also need to register my vehicle within the new jursidiction?
A: Legally, it's a good idea to have all of your paperwork (driver's license/insurance/title/registration) under one jurisdiction to eliminate lengthy explanations to local law enforcement should you be stopped for any reason. While some spouses have reported that they weren't given the slightest bit of hassle, that's not to say it couldn't happen. For me, personally? I go for peace of mind. If I have to take a couple of extra steps to make sure everything is copasetic, well, so be it.

However. Be advised: if you are planning to claim a state other than the jurisdiction you reside in for tax purposes, your driver's license, vehicle registration, title etc can be used to determine established residency and you may be found to owe taxes not to your home state of record, but to the new state. In instances where you are not permitted to carry an out of state driver's license without physically living in that state, fear not. Your driver's license is not the only factor that goes into determining residency.

Question: I was able to keep my out of state driver's license. What should I do about insurance? My title/registration is from the same out-of-state jurisdiction as my driver's license.
A: I encountered this particular doozy myself, but the insurance agents for military families at GEICO were more than happy (and helpful!) to walk me through the process. The bottom line is that your vehicle must be insured for the jursdiction in which it is garaged. That being said, I did something a little different. I opted to keep my Maine insurance (to match all of my Maine paperwork), but I worked with the insurance agent to ensure that I met not only Maine's insurance requirements, but also any and all of the District of Columbia's automotive insurance limits. While I may hold a Maine insurance card, I simultaneously uphold the required insurance limits to legally operate my vehicle in the District of Columbia.

Question: I was not married to my service member at the time I purchased, registered and titled my vehicle in my own name. If I add my husband's name to the registration, will all vehicle registration fees be waived?
A: That depends on your state. Maine for example, needed my husband's name to appear on the title to qualify for registration fee exemption. I didn't know I was getting married when I purchased/registered/titled my car in 2009 ... and the only way to add an owner to a vehicle on the title is to release the lien and retitle the vehicle. Your lienholder will likely not lift the lien simply to add a co-owner to the car; you'd have to sell it to him. It's up to you if you want to go that extra mile. For us? I sighed and opted to bite the bullet. I'm spending a ridiculous amount of money on registration every year, but in the long run ... I save money by claiming Maine for tax purposes.

At the end of the day, my advice is quite simple: do not mix and match jurisdictions ... if you cannot keep your driver's license in one state because you are physically no longer a resident, start doing a lot of asking around about what your options are. If you choose to hold a Virginia driver's license and drive around with MD title/plates/insurance, that's your call -- but you may have some explaining to do at some point in time.


  1. Wonderful advice! I actually know someone who was fined for driving with an out of state license last year here in California and the officer was aware she was a military spouse. I guess that's not allowed here.

  2. Wow that was great information! We just moved to North Carolina and my Maryland registration is about to expire... looks like I have a lot of work to do...

  3. I'm glad this was helpful! My head is still spinning from some of the more recent information I've learned this morning, although it pertained specifically what I needed to do for the state of Maine. DC is more than compliant and is waiting for the Maine end of things to become finalized.

    It's a ridiculously confusing process -- but local state governments have been really helpful in getting me to where I need to be, albeit a few bumps on the road.

  4. Wow, that does sound confusing, but how cool that you don't have to always pay for registration. We sure do here in Canada :P