Annual Meeting

Clarify overseas employment guidance for military families, House urges

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Soldier and spouse

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The U.S. Departments of State and Defense should clarify rules that relate to military spouses and family members who want to obtain or maintain telework, virtual or other forms of employment while accompanying service members overseas, the House of Delegates said at the ABA Annual Meeting in Denver on Monday.

The Standing Committee on Legal Assistance for Military Personnel submitted Resolution 602, which also calls on the departments to provide clear guidelines to U.S. employers who wish to employ service members’ spouses and family members when they are outside of the United States.

“Every year we ask millions of military members to take an oath to the Constitution to defend our country,” Pamela Stevenson, the chair of the Standing Committee on Legal Assistance for Military Personnel, said when introducing the measure. “And in exchange for that, we say we’ll take care of them and their families. This resolution is a little part of taking care of them and their families. It simply asks that we clarify the rules in each country where military members are stationed as to whether or not their spouses can work and who can hire them.”

When the United States plans to station military forces in a foreign country, it enters into a Status of Forces Agreement, or SOFA, with the country that establishes the legal framework for regulating service members and their families during the assignment, according to the report that accompanies the resolution. Currently, the report also says, the 122 individual agreements are not standardized and do not generally cover the employment of military spouses.

Retired U.S. Air Force Col. Linda Strite Murnane also spoke in favor of the resolution, urging House members to imagine going to law school and becoming a lawyer, then finding out they must move overseas with a spouse who serves in the military.

Follow along with the ABA Journal’s coverage of the 2023 ABA Annual Meeting here.

“And then imagine, if you will, that you don’t know if you can use the electronic systems in the household or the telephone system or operate the computer or engage in a Zoom meeting or otherwise consult with clients, and you have to evaluate with each client whether or not there is a conflict of interest,” said Murnane, a National Conference of Specialized Court Trial Judges representative to the House. “This is the reason the [Standing Committee on] Legal Assistance for Military Personnel] has asked you to vote for this resolution. So that the rules will be clarified.”

Resolution 602 builds on the findings of the “Tri-Service Working Group,” which was convened by the secretaries of the U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force in 2019, to identify challenges facing military spouses, the resolution’s report says.

The resolution is also consistent with a measure passed by the House in 2012 that urges bar admission authorities to adopt rules that accommodate military spouses who are attorneys and must move frequently with their families.

The House overwhelmingly adopted Resolution 602. Its co-sponsors are the International Law Section, Standing Committee on Law and National Security and Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division.

See also: “ABA Military Pro Bono Project has been connecting volunteer attorneys to servicemembers in need for 15 years”

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