Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Hawaii
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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the intermediate court of appeals (ICA) concluding that the family court erred in dismissing count two of this complaint charging Defendant with certain offenses on the grounds that the family court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over that count, holding that the ICA did not err.Count one of the operative complaint charged Defendant with abuse of a family or household member, and count two charged him with third degree assault against a complaining witness. The family court granted Defendant's motion to dismiss count two, concluding that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction. The ICA reversed, concluding that the family court had concurrent subject matter jurisdiction over the charge based on Haw. Rev. Stat. 571-14(b). The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the family court erred in dismissing count two for lack of subject matter jurisdiction because section 571-14(b) provided the family court with concurrent subject matter jurisdiction over count two; and (2) the family court continued to have subject matter jurisdiction over count two despite the dismissal of count one with prejudice. View "State v. Milne" on Justia Law

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In this custody dispute, the Supreme Court vacated a settlement agreement reached by the parties during trial, holding that the family court's actions in reaching the settlement were improper, and thus the family court plainly erred.Father sought joint legal and physical custody of the parties' minor child, and the case proceeded to a bench trial. The parties settled during trial. On appeal, Father argued that the family court acted improperly in facilitating the settlement. The Supreme Court agreed, holding that because the court spoke to Father alone without obtaining consent from counsel on the record, initiated settlement discussions, and strongly recommended specific terms on a hotly-contested issue after trial had commenced, the family court committed plain error. View "WW v. DS" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the intermediate court of appeals (ICA) affirming the family court's order granting the Department of Human Services (DHS) foster custody and the subsequent order terminating Mother's parental rights, holding that the ICA erred when it failed to vacate the family court's order.On appeal, Mother argued that the family court erred in failing to appoint counsel for her prior to granting foster custody. The Supreme Court agreed, holding (1) Mother should have been appointed counsel at the time DHS filed its petition for family supervision; and (2) the failure to appoint Mother counsel at the time DHS filed its petition for foster custody was structural error that cannot be deemed harmless. The Supreme Court remanded the case for further proceedings. View "In re L.I." on Justia Law

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In this divorce proceeding, the Supreme Court adopted the California Supreme Court's test for voluntariness in premarital agreements (PMA) under the Uniform Premarital Agreement Act (UPAA) and held that the family court did not err in enforcing the PMA in this case and that Wife's other asserted points of error were meritless.During the parties' divorce proceeding, Wife argued that she involuntarily executed the PMA prior to her marriage to Husband. The family court rejected Wife's argument and enforced the PMA. The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the intermediate court of appeals and the family court, holding that the family court did not err by (1) considering the custody evaluator's report in awarding full physical custody of the parties' minor child to Husband; (2) finding that the PMA was enforceable; and (3) failing to find that Husband abused the temporary restraining order process to gain advantage in the custody dispute. View "L.R.O. v. N.D.O." on Justia Law

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In this divorce proceeding, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the intermediate court of appeals (ICA) concluding that Father's motion to amend findings of fact and conclusions of law and motion for new trial pursuant were untimely and concluding that the family court's orders denying Father's motion to amend and motion for new trial were void for lack of jurisdiction, holding that the family court did not abuse its discretion in denying Father's motions.The family court denied Father's motions to amend and for new trial the ICA determined that the family court's orders were void and that both motions were untimely. The ICA remanded with instructions for the family court to enter orders denying both motions on that basis. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the ICA erred in holding that Father's motion to amend and motion for new trial were untimely and in holding that the family court's orders denying the motions were void for lack of jurisdiction because the family court had jurisdiction to enter the orders. Further, the family court did not abuse its discretion in denying Father's motion to amend and motion for new trial. View "DL v. CL" on Justia Law

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In Father's third appeal in a divorce proceeding the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the intermediate court of appeals (ICA) except to the extent it affirmed the family court's order denying Father's motion for relief from judgment, holding that the ICA erred in determining that the family court's orders orders denying Father's motion to amend and motion for new trial were void and that both motions were untimely.After the family court entered a divorce decree Father submitted to the family court a Hawai'i Family Court Rules (HFCR) Rule 52(b) motion to amend, a HFCR Rule 59 motion for new trial, and a HFCR Rule 60(a) motion for relief from judgment. The family court denied Father's motion to amend and motion for new trial. The ICA determined that the family court's orders denying Father's motion to amend and motion for new trial were void and that both motions were untimely. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the ICA erred in holding that the motions to amend and for new trial were untimely; (2) the family court had jurisdiction to enter the orders; and (3) the family court did not abuse its discretion in denying Father's motion to amend and motion for new trial. View "DL v. CL" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the intermediate court of appeals (ICA) affirming the family court's challenged rulings concerning child custody and relocation and disqualification of counsel in a divorce proceeding, holding that the ICA did not err.Specifically, the Supreme Court held that the ICA did not err by (1) (a) considering the family court’s April 26, 2018 amended findings of fact and conclusions of law regarding child custody despite its entry of some findings of fact regarding child custody before the March 26, 2018 notice of appeal because the notice of appeal was premature; and (b) rejecting Petitioner’s arguments that the April 26, 2018 findings and conclusions should be rejected because the family court adopted Respondent's submissions verbatim; (2) affirming the family court’s denial of its motion to disqualify Respondent’s counsel and law firm; and (3) affirming the family court’s grant of sole physical custody of the parties’ minor children to Respondent and allowing Respondent to relocate the children to Arizona. View "DL v. CL" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the intermediate court of appeals' (ICA) amended judgment remanding this custody case to the family court for further proceedings, holding that the ICA did not err by holding that the family court abused its discretion in denying Father's request for a continuance to seek the assistance of an attorney.Mother filed a motion for post-decree relief requesting sole physician and joint legal custody of the parties' two minor children so that she could relocate to North Carolina. Both parties proceeded to trial without attorneys. Father, who had a Tagalog interpreter available at trial, experienced difficulty cross-examining witnesses and orally requested a continuance so that he could obtain the assistance of an attorney. The family court denied as untimely Father's motion. The court then ruled that it was in the children's best interests to relocate with Mother. The ICA vacated the family court's ruling. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the family court abused its discretion in denying Father's motion for a continuance. View "DJ v. CJ" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the intermediate court of appeals (ICA) on appeal affirming the family court's termination of Father's parental rights, holding that the ICA erred in substituting a provision of the family court statutes, Haw. Rev. Stat. 571-61(b)(1)(E), for a provision of the Child Protective Act (CPA) as the basis for terminating Father's parental rights.The family court terminated Father's parental rights to his child pursuant to Haw. Rev. Stat. 587A-33, a provision of the CPA. On appeal, the ICA held that the family court's termination of Father's parental rights was not permitted by the plain language of the CPA provision. However, the ICA affirmed the termination of Father's parental rights under the family court provision. The Supreme Court vacated the ICA's judgment, holding that where the CPA provision contained a requirement not present in the family court provision the ICA erred by invoking the family court provision to affirm the family court's termination of Father's parental rights. View "In re Interest of R Children" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the intermediate court of appeals (ICA) and the order of the family court in this case concerning the proper consideration and weight of a hānai relationship in the context of a child welfare proceeding, holding that a hānai relative who is a child's resource caregiver has an interest in that child's custody sufficient to allow intervention in such proceedings under Rule 24(a)(2) of the Hawai'i Family Court Rules.Child lived with Father and his girlfriend, KL. After Father moved out, Child remained in the same home as KL. The family court later changed Child's placement to her great aunt and uncle's home in New Hampshire. At the hearing changing Child's placement, KL sought to have to have interest in the proceeding recognized. The family court denied the request. The ICA ruled that because KL had filed a petition to adopt Child she had a sufficient interest in Child's custody to intervene. KL sought further review, arguing that her status as a hānai relative conferred a substantive interest in Child's placement. The Supreme Court agreed, holding that the family court erred by not allowing KL to intervene in the placement hearing based in part on her status as Child's hānai parent. View "In re AB" on Justia Law