Roadblocks to Finding Home: Traditional Domicile Analysis’ Fundamental Unworkability for Military Families

By Haley E. Talati

Domicile, or one’s “true home,” has ramifications about personal jurisdiction, federal court diversity jurisdiction, taxation, and family law. Typically, domicile is determined by physical presence in a location and intent to remain there indefinitely. But for military personnel and their families, general common law principles and statutory reforms create more barriers and complications to establishing and maintaining a domicile of choice than the civilian population typically faces. These barriers expose military families—especially those who relocate frequently—to increased litigation risks, such as tax enforcement suits, if they fail to take additional judicially-recognized steps to make their domiciles clear.

This Note demonstrates the ways in which the common law and statutory domicile framework has proven unworkable for military personnel and advocates for reconceptualizing it to better serve those affected and to comport with the doctrine’s underlying purposes. Part I describes the modern common law approach to domicile analysis and explores how legislative reforms have modified the traditional analysis for military personnel and spouses. Part II details the practical problems military personnel face in establishing a domicile of choice, focusing on the ways in which certain legal and financial considerations disincentivize military families from establishing and maintaining domicile in a manner courts can clearly analyze through the existing framework. Part III evaluates possibilities for reforming the domicile framework. It concludes that an amendment to the existing statutory scheme should give military families the option to establish a new domicile of choice via formal declaration with each new duty station, which would drastically simplify domicile analysis and reduce litigation, while still preserving the core functions of domicile.

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