Child Custody Decisions in Hawaii

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 What Does Hawaii Law Encourage in Child Custody Disputes?

Hawaii law encourages parents to share the rights and responsibilities of child-rearing. The primary concern of the court is always the best interest of the child. In child custody disputes, the court encourages parents to come to an agreement regarding the custody arrangement, often through a parenting plan.

When domestic violence is a concern, the safety and well-being of the child become paramount, and special considerations are made.

What Is a Parenting Plan?

A parenting plan is a written agreement between parents that outlines how they will share the responsibilities of raising their child after a divorce or separation. It typically includes details on physical custody (where the child will live), legal custody (decision-making responsibilities), and a schedule for visitation or time-sharing.

It also includes provisions for holidays, travel, and any other special considerations that affect the child’s upbringing.

What Does the Court Consider in Assigning Custody?

When assigning custody, a court will consider several factors to determine the best interests of the child, such as:

  • The child’s age, health, and relationship with each parent
  • Each parent’s ability to care for the child
  • The child’s need for stability and continuity
  • The wishes of the child (if the child is of sufficient age and capacity)
  • Any history of domestic violence or substance abuse
  • The mental and physical health of each parent

The Child’s Age, Health, and Relationship with Each Parent

The court looks at the child’s age because younger children might require more hands-on care, which could affect the custody arrangement. The child’s health could also impact the decision, especially if they have special medical needs that one parent is better equipped to handle. In terms of the relationship, a parent who has been more involved in the child’s life or has a stronger emotional bond might be given preference.

Scenario: A 2-year-old child has a closer bond with the mother, who has been the primary caregiver. In this case, the court might lean towards granting physical custody to the mother.

Each Parent’s Ability to Care for the Child

The court examines each parent’s living conditions, financial stability, work schedule, and overall ability to provide a safe, nurturing environment.

Scenario: If one parent works long hours and travels frequently, the court may deem the other parent, who has a more stable schedule, as better suited for physical custody.

The Child’s Need for Stability and Continuity

Courts prioritize maintaining a stable and consistent environment for the child, including keeping them in the same school or community, if possible.

Scenario: If splitting custody equally would involve the child constantly moving between two far-apart locations, disrupting school and social activities, the court might award primary custody to the parent living closer to the child’s school.

The Wishes of the Child

In Hawaii, if the child is old enough (typically 14 or older) and has a preference, the court will take their wishes into account.

Scenario: A 15-year-old child expresses a desire to live primarily with the father due to shared interests and closer proximity to her high school. The court might consider this in the custody decision.

Any History of Domestic Violence or Substance Abuse

Safety is a key concern. If one parent has a history of domestic violence or substance abuse, this will significantly impact custody decisions.

Scenario: If a mother has documented instances of physical abuse, the court would likely limit her custody or visitation rights to ensure the child’s safety.

The Mental and Physical Health of Each Parent

The court considers if each parent is mentally and physically capable of caring for the child.

Scenario: If a father is struggling with a serious physical disability that impedes his ability to physically care for a young child, the court might award physical custody to the mother while allowing the father appropriate visitation rights.

Child Custody Evaluator

In high-conflict situations, a child custody evaluator may be involved to assess these factors and make a recommendation to the court.

A child custody evaluator is a professional, usually a psychologist or a mental health expert, appointed by the court in high-conflict custody cases. Their role is to conduct a thorough investigation into the family situation and provide an impartial recommendation to the court on what they believe to be the best custody arrangement in terms of the child’s wellbeing.

This typically happens when parents cannot agree on a parenting plan, or when there are concerns about a child’s safety or welfare. It might also occur when one parent alleges that the other parent is unfit, there are accusations of substance abuse, domestic violence, or if the child has special needs that require a specific arrangement.

The evaluator’s investigation can involve conducting psychological evaluations of the parents and the child, observing parent-child interactions, interviewing teachers, friends, and extended family members, and reviewing relevant documents like medical records, school records, and prior court proceedings.

For instance, in a scenario where a mother and father are in a bitter custody dispute and both claim the other is unfit to parent, a child custody evaluator might be appointed. The evaluator would conduct individual interviews with each parent, observe each parent interacting with the child, and possibly conduct psychological evaluations. The evaluator might also speak with the child’s teachers or pediatrician to get a fuller picture of the child’s life.

After completing the assessment, the evaluator would provide a detailed report to the court with recommendations for the custody arrangement, which the judge would consider when making the final decision.

What Happens When the Court Has Made a Decision?

Once the court has made a decision, the custody arrangement becomes a court order that both parents are legally required to follow. Violation of this order can have serious consequences, including loss of custody rights, fines, or even jail time in extreme cases. The custody order can be modified in the future if circumstances change significantly, and it is in the child’s best interest to do so.

Should I Contact a Custody Lawyer?

Yes, if you are facing a child custody dispute, it’s recommended to get in touch with a knowledgeable custody lawyer. They can guide you through the complex legal process, help you understand your rights and responsibilities, and advocate for the best interests of both you and your child.

Emotions can run high during child custody disputes, and it’s essential to have a lawyer who can provide objective advice and support. A custody lawyer can assess your case from a legal standpoint, help you understand the potential outcomes, and provide guidance on making informed decisions.

Your custody lawyer will work to protect your parental rights and advocate for the best interests of your child. They will gather evidence, present your case persuasively, and argue for a custody arrangement that promotes your child’s well-being and stability.

In many custody cases, negotiation or mediation is necessary to reach a mutually agreeable custody arrangement. A skilled custody lawyer can represent you during negotiations, help you articulate your needs and concerns, and strive for a fair and workable solution. They will ensure that any agreement reached is legally sound and serves the best interests of your child.

If you’re looking for a Hawaii child custody lawyer, LegalMatch can help. Visit LegalMatch to connect with a local, experienced attorney who can assist you with your case.

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