The Family Court is seeing an increased backlog of unresolved cases, especially because of the complications created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Hearings – even those deemed urgent – are being scheduled months out. Even more so than in the past, the court is encouraging people to seek alternative dispute resolution (ADR) to avoid what can be a months-long wait for a hearing. Alternative dispute resolution can also be less expensive than going through the Family Court.  

Parents or spouses can use alternative dispute resolution to navigate divorces, and custody or child support disputes.  

Forms of alternative dispute resolution include:  

  • Mediation – The parties work together with a trained mediator to facilitate conversation and resolution.  
  • Arbitration – The parties hire a family law attorney or expert who acts as a private judge to resolve the remaining disputes.   
  • Custody Issues – Third-party evaluators, such as a Family Court-approved, licensed,  trained custody evaluator, can determine what arrangement is in the best interest of the child. 

 Seth Harris, senior associate at the PMK family law division, can help determine if alternative dispute resolution is a good option for you. For more information, go to https://www.hawaiilegal.com/practice-areas/family-law-2/. 

Tax season is upon us, so now is the time to begin thinking about how financial aspects of your life, such as child-related expenses, can impact your taxes.  

 Here are some general rules of thumb when it comes to taxes and dependent expenses and benefits: 

  • Government Economic Stimulus Payments – These are not taxable. The government pays the stimulus to the parent who claims the child as a dependent for their taxesHowever, both parents may choose to share it, especially if they have joint custody. 
  • Child Support – Child support is not taxableThe tax is paid when it is initially received by the party who earned the income. The support payment is not taxed and is not reported on tax returns as taxable income.  
  • Claiming a Child as a Dependent – The parent who has primary custody of the child usually claims them as a dependent on their taxes. There are exceptions, such as if the parents agree to a different arrangement or if a judge orders an alternative situation. In those cases, the IRS usually requires the custodial parent to sign a waiver recognizing that the other parent is claiming the child. 
  • Tax Deductions for Educational Expenses – There are potential tax credits and/or deductions for some education expenses and for contributing to college savings plans, such as a 529 college savings plan.  

Some child-related tax benefits are capped or reduced for higher-income earners. In those cases, a parent may be able to use those benefits as an additional value to allocate in a divorce or custody proceeding to assist with settlement.  

Seth Harris,senior associate at thePMK family law division, is available to help you work through any issues related to divorce and child custody, as well as all family law needsFor more information, go to https://www.hawaiilegal.com/practice-areas/family-law-2/. 

Note: The attorneys of PMK do not provide tax advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax advice. You should consult your own tax advisors before engaging in any action. 

As the kupuna of our families go through the aging process, there may be times when other family members need to take over as decision-makers for certain aspects of their lives.

This type of arrangement, known as guardianship for an incapacitated adult, can occur if any adult relative becomes mentally or physically incapacitated.  

Guardianship for incapacitated adults can be limited or unlimited. In a limited guardianship, the court grants specific powers, such as only medical decisions or taskswhich might include ordering prescriptions, obtaining a disabled parking pass, or securing a service animal.  

An unlimited guardianship allows one to make all of the decisions for the incapacitated adult, including financial decisionssuch as receiving money on their behalf and using that money to pay for their expenses. Whenever feasible, the Court grants only those powers which are necessary due to the adultlimitations. 

In order to establish legal guardianship of an adult, one must file a standard petition with the court explaining who requires guardianship and whythe proposed guardian, and a note from a physician explaining how that adult is incapacitated.  

The court prioritizes potential guardians in the order of relationship to the incapacitated person in the following order: 

  • Parents 
  • Siblings 
  • Children
  • Unrelated caregivers  

The person petitioning for guardianship will also need to notify any other potential guardians and request a waiver and consent from them.  

The court then schedules a hearing in which the petitioner provides the judge with the doctor’s letter, any waivers from other potential guardians, and a financial report for the incapacitated personIf there is a current caregiver, such as a nursing home, they will also need to be notified.  

A petition for guardianship is usually granted if the reason for the request is confirmed by a physician and there are no objections by other potential guardians 

Following an approved petition, the potential guardian will need to file reports to the court annually, including information about the condition of the incapacitated adult and the status of their finances.   

Overall, establishing guardianship for an incapacitated adult in the state of Hawaii can be easily navigated with the help of an experienced attorney. Seth Harris, senior associate with the PMK Family Law Division, is able to take you through the steps so you can make the best possible decisions for your kupuna.

Every year, in celebration of women’s contributions to history, culture, and society, the President of the United States proclaims March as Women’s History Month. It began in 1982 as Women’s History Week to recognize the specific achievements women have made throughout American history in a variety of fields. In 1987, it became Women’s History Month. In recognition of this important designation, the staff of PMK wishes to thank the women of the law firm for their extensive contributions to the company and their community.

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There are two types of adoptions – uncontested and contested. In both cases prospective adoptive parents must first gather and file all required documents with the family court and obtain verification from the Department of Human Services (DHS) that they have no history of Child Protective Service allegations or investigations 

If both biological parents agree, the adoption is uncontested and the family court will send the adoption packet to a judge who will schedule a hearing and finalize the process. An adoption can also be uncontested if one or both biological parents have died, in which case the adopted parent is usually a stepparent, grandparent or other relative, or someone approved by DHS.  

A contested adoption is often a much lengthier undertakingAdoption cases are contested for several reasons. For example, a parent wishes to maintain parental rights in spite of having no contact with the child and providing no support, or it is impossible to obtain permission from one or both parents (due to homelessness, drug addiction, prison time or unavailability).  

In these cases, when submitting paperwork to the family court, the prospective parents must note that one biological parent has not consented to the adoption.  

The family court then schedulea hearing, and a trial if necessary. During the trial, the judge decides whether the nonconsenting parent meets the statutory requirements for taking care of their child. The judge can terminate the parental rights if he or she finds that the parent is not able to provide a safe, stable home for their child, but it is rare for a judge to do so. As in all cases, Hawaii family court judges make decisions based on what is in the best interest of the child.  

Seth Harris, senior associate of PMK family law is available to assist in all aspects of adoption, whether contested or uncontested. Contact Mr. Harris at Family@HawaiiLegal.com.