The Covid-19 virus has resulted in many changes for families in Hawaii, especially those who are separating or in the middle of a divorce or paternity case. For those families, additional logistical and safety concerns need to be addressed including ensuring ongoing financial support for regular living expenses, arranging or adjusting visitation schedules and adjusting for online or at home education to name a few. Any hearings or trials that are allowed to take place will likely occur only by telephone or video conference to ensure safety of the litigants and court staff.
The ability of the Hawaii Family Courts to provide access to justice for the Hawaii community has been negatively impacted by Covid-19 mandates. Although access to the courts has been significantly limited, the Family Court judges and staff are working to provide some basic services within the federal, state and county mandates created to stop community spread of the virus.
The Family Law division of PMK is committed to staying informed about current changes and how they impact you. Please read further for some important information that may pertain to your situation and don’t hesitate to contact us with your specific questions.
Access to Family Court
The First Circuit Family Court will restart hearings as scheduled on May 18, 2020, as stated in the Second Amended Emergency Order #4 Regarding Family Court of the First Circuit, filed April 29, 2020. The hearings that were postponed this week will be rescheduled by the court.
COVID-19 has impacted all aspects of our daily lives, even our court systems. On March 16, 2020, the Chief Justice of the Hawaii Supreme Court made his first order limiting in-person appearances and postponing all divorce and paternity hearings until after April 30, 2020. Only hearings on extreme matters, such as Temporary Restraining Orders, would be considered, needing approval in advance by a judge.
By further recent orders, the Family Court has begun the process of rescheduling previously continued hearings from March and April 2020. The court staff has begun contacting attorneys and participants as they reschedule the hearing for specific upcoming dates. The recent orders require that all hearings be held by video conference instead of in-person as previously required prior to the Covid-19. These processes are new to the Family Court and the judges, court staff and those involved are all adjusting and attempting to iron out various problems as they encounter them.
So what does that mean for you and your access to the Family Court?
Hearings previously set in March and April 2020 that were previously continued are in the process of being rescheduled. Hearings continued to after April 30, 2020 are postponed until after May 29, 2020 except as specifically identified by the Family Court. All trials set in May 2020 except for Temporary Restraining Order (Requests for Order for Protection) and Gun Violence Protective Order trials, are being continued to a later date.
The Family Court is also moving forward with previously scheduled hearings already set in May 2020 (other than a trial or extended hearing) including hearings on pre-decree and post-decree motions, motions to set, return hearings on custody evaluators or best interest fact finder reports and other divorce matters. These matters will proceed by video conference.
The Family Court also remains open for some basic services in an effort to resolve matters that are not disputed. These services include starting new divorce and paternity cases, filing motions and reviewing agreements such as Stipulations and Divorce Decrees.
Please keep in mind that in-person filing has been suspended for the time being and the physical Family Court buildings are closed to the general public unless you have a hearing date. The court is currently allowing attorneys to submit documents via email. You are also able to visit the Family Court’s website to access any of the forms needed to complete your own family law case (Divorce, Paternity, Child Support, Civil Union, Temporary Restraining Order, Adoption, Guardianship).
If you have any questions regarding submitting documents, beginning a family law case, or on how the COVID-19 affects your legal issues, take the next step and call (808) 539-1100 or email Family@HawaiiLegal.com so we can provide you with the personal attention you need to resolve your legal issues.
Child Support and Covid-19
The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing many businesses to shut down, leading to the significant reduction or loss of income for many members of our community. It further impacts those who have obligations to pay child support, and increases the sense of urgency and insecurity for those parties who rely on child support payments to support their children.
If you are the payor responsible for providing child support to the custodial parent, you must continue making court ordered payments. If you are experiencing financial issues due to a pay cut, being laid off, or furloughed due to COVID-19, you may have a reasonable basis to request a reduction in your child support payments.
You must continue paying the court ordered child support unless or until you file a motion in court (or Child Support Enforcement Agency), or execute a written agreement between you and your co-parent temporarily reducing the child support payments. Until a parent requests a change to their current child support, the obligation to pay continues and amounts owed for past months (or years) generally cannot be modified going backward.
In addition to potential termination or non-voluntary reduction in pay, there are a variety of other issues that may impact child support during the COVID-19 crises including:
- Receipt of unemployment benefits
- Receipt of COVID-19 related economic stimulus payments
- Reduction or elimination of private school expenses
- Reduction or elimination of child care cost due to suspension of school classes or child care
- Health insurance changes
- Loss of income due to non-job related income streams like rent or investments
Should you choose to file a request with the Child Support Enforcement Agency (CSEA) or a Pre-Decree/Post-Decree Motion with Family Court, expect a substantial delay for a scheduled hearing as all non-essential hearings have been postponed past June 15, 2020. In the alternative, any signed written agreement with your co-parent will likely be more efficient and should be filed with Family Court.
If you are the payee receiving child support payments from the payor, and you receive your payments through CSEA, your payments will still continue to be processed. Pursuant to Governor Ige’s mandate, the CSEA office is closed to the public. Customer service representatives will not be available while the office is closed.
Marital Support/Payments for Marital Expenses
The economic downturn related to the Covid-19 virus has had severe financial impacts on separating families. The separation of households creates additional expenses made worse by the difficult economic climate. The lesser earning spouse has the right to request financial support beyond their own income from their soon-to-be former spouse to help cover regular living expenses or debt payments, as well as to cover a retainer for attorney representation from marital funds. Payment of expenses can be ordered either in the form of an order for payment of alimony or an order obligating the greater-earning spouse to pay specific monthly bills. Even with temporary suspension of Family Court hearings, spouses in need of support can still file a motion to preserve any requests for financial support to ask for the specific payments retroactive to the filing date.