Articles Posted in Hawaii Supreme Court

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In 2000, Colleen Collins and John Wassell were joined as a married couple in a ceremony. After the marriage ceremony, the couple did not submit the completed license and certificate of marriage to the State Department of Health due to concerns about the marriage’s financial implications. Afterwards, Collins and Wassell went on a honeymoon, began living together, and shared a joint bank account. In 2005, the couple legally married. In 2007, Collins filed for divorce against Wassell. Collins argued that she was entitled to an equalization payment for her contributions during the period of premarital cohabitation. The family court determined that Collins and Wassell did not form a premarital economic partnership within the meaning of Helbush v. Helbush. The Supreme Court vacated the divorce decree and the property division and equalization provisions in the decree, holding that the family court (1) applied incorrect legal principles when considering the nature and degree to which the parties applied their financial resources, energies, and efforts for each other’s benefit; and (2) clearly erred in concluding that the parties did not form a premarital economic partnership. View "Collins v. Wassell" on Justia Law

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AS, a minor child, was taken into foster custody after her birth. The Department of Human Services (DHS) recommended that AS be placed permanently with her maternal aunt. The family court, however, awarded custody of AS to AS’s non-relative foster parents. DHS appealed. The intermediate court of appeals (ICA) affirmed after reviewing DHS’s permanent placement recommendation under a best interests of the child standard, rather than an abuse of discretion standard. On appeal, the Supreme Court affirmed the ICA’s judgment and clarified the ICA’s opinion to hold, inter alia, that (1) the party challenging DHS’s permanent placement recommendation bears the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that the permanent placement is not in the child’s best interests; (2) there is no relative placement preference in the Child Protective Act (CPA) with regard to permanent placement of foster children, and therefore, to the extent that DHS’s police directives mandate such a preferences, those policies impermissibly alter the CPA and its legislative history; and (3) In re Doe does not stand for the proposition that the family court must relieve DHS of its permanent custodianship if the family court disagrees with DHS’s permanent placement decision. View "In re AS" on Justia Law

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In 1997, the Child Support Enforcement Agency (CSEA) recorded a statutory lien on Petitioner’s real and personal property for delinquent child support. More than a decade later, a law firm agreed to Appellant in an unrelated civil action in exchange for one-third of any recovery obtained. The action resulted in an arbitration award in Petitioner’s favor. The State and the law firm disputed whether the CSEA lien had priority over the attorneys’ lien. The circuit court concluded that the CSEA’s statutory lien had priority over Petitioner’s attorneys’ lien. On appeal, Petitioner argued (1) his attorneys’ lien constituted a property interest that was independent from his interest in the judgment, and (2) therefore, equitable and public policy considerations favored giving an attorneys’ lien priority over the CSEA’s lien. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Haw. Rev. Stat. 507-81 does not provide a superior or independent right for an attorney’s property interest in a judgment over a prior recorded CSEA lien; and (2) accordingly, CSEA’s lien took priority over Petitioner’s attorneys’ lien. View "Lopez v. State" on Justia Law

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The Department of Human Services (DHS) filed a petition for temporary foster custody over Mother’s son, T.M. At a combined permanency hearing and termination of parental rights hearing several months later, Mother was not yet represented by counsel. Counsel was subsequently appointed for Mother. The family court later vacated Mother’s parental rights. The intermediate court of appeals (ICA) affirmed, holding that the family court did not abuse its discretion when it failed to appoint counsel to represent Mother earlier in the proceedings. The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the ICA and the family court’s order terminating Mother’s parental rights, holding (1) parents have a constitutional right to counsel in parental termination proceedings, and henceforth, courts must appoint counsel for indigent parents once DHS files a petition to assert foster custody over a child; and (2) the family court in this case abused its discretion by failing to appoint counsel for Mother until almost nineteen months after DHS filed a petition for temporary foster custody over T.M. Remanded for a new hearing. View "In re TM" on Justia Law

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This case involved the disposition of property during divorce proceedings between Husband and Wife. In the divorce decree, the court provided that the property would be sold and the proceeds divided as proposed by the parties. Both parties subsequently filed post-decree motions. The family court later modified the decree as to the apportioned liability for capital gains taxes between Husband and Wife. The Court of Appeals (ICA) affirmed the court's order modifying the decree. The Supreme Court vacated the ICA's judgment affirming the order on post-decree relief and vacated the family court's order on post-decree relief, holding that the family court was foreclosed from modifying the divorce decree because the circumstances here did not permit such modification under the Hawaii Family Court Rules. Remanded. View "Thomas-Yukimura v. Yukimura" on Justia Law

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Aaron and Bonnie Kakinami were divorced pursuant to a a divorce decree that reserved property division. Pursuant to a supplemental divorce decree, the family court classified a gift and several inheritances that Bonnie received during the marriage as marital separate property and awarded Bonnie one hundred percent of that property. After Aaron filed a notice of appeal, the family court issued an order compelling Aaron to pay Bonnie her net share of the marital residence. The intermediate court of appeals (ICA) affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the ICA erred in stating that the family court had the authority to award marital separate property to a non-owning spouse, as marital separate property remains non-divisible under the framework set forth in Hussey v. Hussey; (2) the family court did not abuse its discretion when it adhered to the partnership model of property division in dividing the parties' marital partnership property, because the existence of an inheritance, without more, does not mandate deviation; and (3) the family court had jurisdiction when it issued its post-decree order because the order enforced a preexisting obligation.

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After his divorce from Respondent, Petitioner filed a motion to set aside the divorce decree, which granted the parties a divorce and awarded child custody. The family court denied the motion. The intermediate court of appeals (ICA) affirmed. The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the ICA in part, insofar as it held the court properly awarded Respondent the copyrights and vacated the portion of the divorce decree that awarded Respondent all ownership interest in copyrights held in Petitioner's name, holding (1) the family court did not abuse its discretion in denying Petitioner's motion, as Petitioner had notice that his failure to appear at a scheduled settlement conference would result in default, and the court acknowledged that Petitioner's motion was for Hawaii Fam. Ct. R. 60(b) relief, although Petitioner had failed to cite rule 60(b) in support of the motion; and (2) the court abused its discretion in declining to set aside that part of the divorce decree that transferred Petitioner's entire ownership interest in the copyrights to Respondent in violation of federal law. The Court affirmed the divorce decree in all other respects. Remanded for a determination of the economic interest in the copyrights to which Respondent was entitled.

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This case involved a divorce action between Sami and Jacqueline Tamman. After the family court entered its order granting custody and support, Sami timely filed a motion for reconsideration, which the family court denied in substantial part. Sami subsequently filed a notice of appeal and attached the court's order denying his motion for reconsideration. Approximately a month later Sami filed his civil appeal docketing statement, to which he attached the order granting custody and other documents. The intermediate court of appeals (ICA) affirmed the family court's order regarding motion for reconsideration and declined to address Sami's other points of error. Sami appealed, arguing that the ICA erred by limiting its review to only the order regarding motion for reconsideration. The Supreme Court vacated the ICA's judgment, holding that, based on the facts and circumstances of this case, the ICA erred when it limited its review to only the order regarding motion for reconsideration. Remanded to the ICA to address Sami's remaining points of error.

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Orlando Pecpec was charged in the family court with twenty-five counts of violation of an order for protection in relation to twenty-five voicemails and text messages he allegedly sent to his former spouse. The jury found PecPec guilty on nineteen counts. Pecpec challenged his convictions on eight counts, arguing they were obtained in violation of his right to an unanimous verdict because the jury was not specifically instructed that it was required to unanimously agree to the specific act that supported each count. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) under State v. Mundon, the family court was required to give a specific unanimity instruction in the circumstances of the instant case; but (2) the family court's error in this case was harmless because there was no reasonable possibility that Pecpec was convicted on less than a unanimous verdict.

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Husband and Wife divorced pursuant to a stipulated divorce decree on August 8, 2005, which reserved jurisdiction over division of the parties' assets and debts. The family court subsequently filed orders to effectuate the sale of certain property. On October 5, 2006, Husband filed a motion to stay the sale of the property and to dismiss, arguing that the court did not have jurisdiction to order the sale because it failed to issue a ruling dividing the property within one year of entering its divorce decree, as required under Boulton v. Boulton. The court denied the motion and later filed an order authorizing escrow to release a portion of the proceeds from the sale of the property to Wife. The intermediate court of appeals (ICA) held that the family court had jurisdiction to order the sale and that the ICA lacked jurisdiction to consider Husband's contention regarding the order releasing funds from escrow. The Supreme Court affirmed after overruling Boulton, holding (1) the family court was not divested of jurisdiction over the property division in the instant case; and (2) the ICA did not have jurisdiction to address the family court's escrow order because Husband failed to appeal that order.