Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Hawaii

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The Supreme Court remanded this divorce case to the family court, holding that the family court erred in failing to identify equitable considerations that could have justified deviating from the partnership model when the divorce resulted in significant financial disparity between Husband and Wife. The family court awarded virtually all of the spouses’ property to Husband, a seventy-one-year-old retired musician and trust fund beneficiary, who was also receiving court-ordered spousal support from Wife, a fifty-six-year-old emergency room doctor. The Supreme Court further held that the family court erred by not explaining why it rejected Wife’s request to deviate from the partnership model. View "Selvage v. Moire" on Justia Law

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Child was born to Mother and Father. Mother filed a petition for paternity. Father and Mother entered into a stipulated agreement regarding custody, visitation, and child support. In 2011, Mother and Father reduced Father’s monthly child support obligation. In 2013, Father filed a motion for relief requesting that the family court recalculate his child support obligation based on the parties’ current incomes. The trial court entered an order determining Father’s child support to be the same amount agreed to by the parties in the 2011 agreement and determining that Father owed Mother $64,490 in past due child support. The intermediate court of appeals affirmed the child support ruling. Father appealed, arguing, inter alia, that the family court erred in determining his monthly payment without utilizing the Hawaii Child Support Guidelines. The Supreme Court vacated in part the lower courts, holding (1) a responsible or custodial parent for whom support has previously been ordered is entitled to a review of a child support order not more than once every three years without having to show a change in circumstances; and (2) the family court is required to use the Hawaii Child Support Guidelines when it reviews the merits of a request for adjustment of a monthly support obligation. View "P.O. v. J.S." on Justia Law

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This case arose from a divorce proceeding between Husband and Wife. At issue in this appeal was Husband’s cross-appeal, in which he argued that the family court erred in failing to award him any Category 3 credit for gifts and inheritance, denying his request for Haw. R. Civ. P. 68 attorney’s fees, and awarding Wife attorney’s fees and costs. The intermediate court of appeals (ICA) vacated in part and affirmed in part, concluding (1) the family court erred in denying Husband any Category 3 credit; (2) as to the award of attorney’s fees under Hawaii Family Court Rules Rule 68, the matter must be remanded for further proceedings; and (3) the family court properly awarded attorney’s fees to Wife. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and vacated in part, holding (1) the ICA correctly ruled that the issue of Category 3 credits must be remanded, but, upon remand, the issue must be addressed pursuant to the supplemental instructions in this opinion; and (2) the ICA erred in vacating the family court’s denial of Husband’s Rule 68 motion, as Rule 68 is inapplicable in divorce cases. Remanded. View "Brutsch v. Brutsch" on Justia Law

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A.A. and B.B. were in a committed relationship when Child was born. B.B. was the biological grandfather and legal adoptive father of Child. A.A. and B.B. co-parented Child and shared physical custody of her even after their separation as a couple. A.A. later filed a petition for joint custody of Child pursuant to Haw. Rev. Stat. 571-46(a)(2), alleging that he had de facto joint custody of Child. After a hearing, the family court denied A.A.’s petition for joint custody, concluding that A.A. did not have standing as Child’s “psychological father” because the parties were not married. The Supreme Court vacated the family court’s decision, holding (1) the family court misinterpreted and misapplied Hawaii’s statutory de facto custody provision; and (2) B.B. failed to establish that the application of section 571-46(a)(2) to this case would infringe on his fundamental liberty interests or otherwise violate his constitutional right to privacy. Remanded. View "A.A. v. B.B" on Justia Law

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William Newcomb and Stephen McPeek had lived together in a committed relationship for two years when they decided to adopt and raise a child. Only McPeek legally adopted the child, but the parties co-parented the child and shared physical custody of her, even after their separation. Newcomb later filed a petition for joint custody, alleging that he had de facto joint custody of the child. The family court denied Newcomb’s petition for joint custody. The Supreme Court vacated the family court’s decision, holding (1) the court misinterpreted and misapplied Hawaii’s statutory de facto custody provision; and (2) McPeek failed to establish that the application of the de facto custody provision to this case would infringe on his fundamental liberty interests or otherwise violate his constitutional right to privacy. Remanded. View "Newcomb v. McPeek" on Justia Law

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In this custody dispute regarding Son, Mother moved to modify custody terms contained in a divorce decree, alleging that circumstances had changed because Father planned to move Son to Arizona. The family court ultimately found that Mother failed to establish a material change in circumstance since Father’s relocation was contemplated at the time the decree was entered and that it was still in Son’s best interest to live with Father. The Intermediate Court of Appeals (ICA) affirmed, concluding that the family court properly excluded Mother’s proffered evidence of Father’s pre-decree domestic violence on relevance grounds because the evidence was not related to the material change in circumstances preliminarily found to exist by the family court. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the family court erred in excluding the evidence of Father’s pre-decree domestic violence as, (1) in Waldecker v. O’Scanlon, the Court overruled several ICA cases that suggested that a material change in circumstances was required before a court can modify a custody order according to the best interests of the child; and (2) in order to determine Son’s actual best interests as mandated by Haw. Rev. Stat. 571-46, the family court was required to address the specific and direct allegations of domestic violence before making its custody determination. View "Tumaneng v. Tumaneng" on Justia Law

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This case stemmed from a divorce action by Husband against Wife. Husband tendered a settlement offer to Wife, but Wife did not agree to the offer. The case was tried, and the family court ultimately issued a divorce decree that divided the parties’ marital assets. Following an unsuccessful appeal by Wife, Husband moved for an award of post-offer attorney’s fees and costs pursuant to Hawaii Family Court Rules (HFCR) Rule 68. The family court granted the motion as to Husband’s post-offer trial fees and costs and denied the motion as to Husband’s appellate fees and costs. The Intermediate Court of Appeals (ICA) vacated the family court order, ruling that appellate fees are recoverable under Rule 68. The court remanded the case to the family court to determine whether an award of appellate fees to Husband would be inequitable pursuant to the provisions of Haw. Rev. Stat. 580-47. Husband appealed, arguing that he was entitled to appellate fees as a matter of law. The Supreme Court vacated the ICA’s judgment, holding (1) the 2006 and 2015 versions of HFCR Rule 68 do not apply to family court cases governed by Haw. Rev. Stat. 580-47; and (2) therefore, Husband is not entitled to appellate attorney’s fees under Rule 68. View "Cox v. Cox" on Justia Law

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When Mother and Father divorced, a settlement agreement incorporated into the divorce decree provided that both parents would have joint physical custody of their child but if either parent moved more than two hundred miles away then sole custody would automatically revert to the remaining parent. Mother later filed a petition to change the custody arrangement arguing that her anticipated relocation constituted a material change in circumstances requiring the family court to examine whether the change of custody would be in their child’s best interests. The family court enforced the divorce decree and awarded sole physical custody of the child to Father without explicitly finding that the change of custody was in the child’s best interests, concluding that because the parties had contemplated a future relocation in the divorce decree, there was no material change in circumstances. The intermediate court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court vacated the lower courts’ judgments, holding that the family court erred in enforcing the divorce decree and awarding sole physical custody of the child to Father without considering the best interests of the child. Remanded. View "Waldecker v. O’Scanlon" on Justia Law

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Husband and wife seek review of the ICA's judgment affirming in part and vacating in part the June 2013 Divorce Decree. The court held that the ICA erred in vacating the property division and alimony awards to require a recalculation of these awards based on a segregation of proceeds from the illegal marijuana operation; the family court erred, either by characterizing the entire $1,511,477 expended from husband’s inheritance account as Marital Partnership Property or by characterizing the $2,051,293 remaining in his inheritance account as Marital Separate Property, because the $1,511,447 expended included payment of inheritance taxes on husband’s entire inheritance, and if inheritance taxes are paid out of Marital Partnership Property, the remaining inheritance cannot be classified as Marital Separate Property; the family court erred in summarily ruling before trial that all funds expended by husband from his Marital Separate Property inheritance account constituted Category 3 Marital Partnership Property for which he was entitled to be repaid, without requiring husband to fulfill his burden of establishing that such expenditures were in the nature of a contribution to or an investment in Marital Partnership Property, and then compounded the error by failing to allow and consider evidence of donative intent; the family court erred in ordering an equal distribution of alleged partnership capital losses before deciding whether equitable considerations justified deviation from an equal; and the family court improperly applied marital partnership principles to fashion a property division award that was not just and equitable. The court found no error in the award of attorney’s fees and costs. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded. View "Hamilton v. Hamilton" on Justia Law

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In 1998, Husband and Wife were divorced. Pursuant to the decree, the parties were awarded joint legal custody and shared physical custody of their two children. This case stemmed from a dispute involving the correct interpretation of the divorce decree and an amendment to that decree that governed Husband’s child support obligations. In 2011, Husband filed a motion asking the family court to retroactively terminate his child support obligation for Daughter to 2010 when daughter began college and to require Wife to reimburse him for amounts he allegedly overpaid in child support for Son and Daughter. The family court denied Husband relief. The Intermediate Court of Appeals (ICA) vacated the decision of the family court and remanded for further proceedings. The Supreme Court vacated in part the ICA judgment and affirmed to the extent that it vacated the decision of the family court, holding (1) the ICA erred in concluding that the circuit court abused its discretion in concluding that Husband was precluded from seeking reimbursement for his overpayment of child support for Son; and (2) the ICA erred by failing to address certain issues regarding Daughter’s child support. Remanded. View "Herrmann v. Herrmann" on Justia Law