Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

AGO 1962 No. 88 -
Attorney General John J. O'Connell


When a nonresident serviceman has not changed his domicile to the state of Washington, his wife who accompanies him on military assignment to this state is not required to obtain a Washington state driver's license if she has a valid operator's license issued by the state of her domicile.

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                                                                 January 17, 1962

Honorable Keith Campbell
State Representative, 5th District
W. 2204 Rockwell Avenue
Spokane 13, Washington

                                                                                                                Cite as:  AGO 61-62 No. 88

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged you requested an opinion of this office on the following question:

            "Is a dependent wife who accompanies a serviceman on a military assignment to Washington required to obtain a Washington State Motor Vehicle Operator's License before she can legally drive on Washington highways when she has a valid operator's license from her state of domicile?"

            We answer your question in the negative.


            RCW 46.20.080 entitled "Nonresident licensing" reads as follows:

            "A nonresident over the age of sixteen years who has been duly licensed as an operator under a law requiring the licensing of operators in his home state or country and who has in his immediate possession a valid vehicle operator's license issued to him in his home state or country shall be permitted without examination or a vehicle operator's license of this state to operate a motor vehicle upon the highways of this state."

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            This exemption lasts for an indefinite period providing the dependent wife is operating under a valid license of her home state and providing she is truly a nonresident.

            A nonresident is defined in RCW 46.04.360 as follows:

            "'Nonresident' means any person whose residence is outside this state and who is temporarily sojourning within this state."

            Before applying these statutes there are several problems of definition which must be resolved.  In this regard it must be noted that RCW 46.20.080, supra, (nonresident licensing) uses the word "home" whereas RCW 46.04.360,supra, (defining nonresident) uses the word "residence."  Residence in the ordinary sense means the bodily location of a person as an inhabitant whether this be temporary or permanent.  This is in contrast to domicile, which is used in your question, and which means the established, fixed, permanent place of residence as distinguished from his temporary and transient, though actual bodily place of residence.  Home is said to be that place in which one resides with the intention of domicile, or in which he has resided and to which he intends to return.  (The above definitions are taken from Black's Law Dictionary, 4th Edition, 1951, citing Dicey, Conflicts of Law, § 81.)

            The problem is that these words are often used interchangeably and the distinctions are often ignored when the statutes are drafted.  In fact it has reached the point where the courts say that the words residence, home and domicile may have identical or variable meanings dependent upon the context and purpose of the statute.  In re Lassin's Estate, 33 Wn. (2d) 163, 204 P. (2d) 1071 (1949); Ex parte Mullins, 26 Wn. (2d) 419, 174 P. (2d) 790 (1946).

            When RCW 46.04.360,supra, and RCW 46.20.080, supra, are viewed together, it becomes obvious that "home" state and "residence" must mean the same thing (except for the fact that one refers to state generally and the other to actual physical abode) because the statutes are complementary. It also is apparent that they mean domicile as defined above.

            Generally in the case of servicemen it is said that their domicile remains unchanged; domicile is neither gained nor lost by being temporarily stationed in the line of duty at a particular place.  However, a new domicile may be acquired if both fact and intent occur at the same time.  Thomas v. Thomas, 158 Wash. Dec. 375 (1961) [[58 Wn.2d 377]]; Kankelborg v. Kankelborg, 199 Wash. 259, 90 P. (2d) 1018 (1939).  It is also generally said that the domicile of a wife follows that of her husband.  Wise v. Bolster, 31 Fed.Supp. 856 (1940) (removed from Washington superior court).

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            Accordingly, it is the opinion of this office that a serviceman's wife, accompanying her husband on a military assignment in Washington, does not have to obtain a Washington vehicle operator's license, if she is legally domiciled elsewhere, as presumed in your question, and if she has a valid operator's license issued by that state.

            We trust the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General