Child Custody and Relocation Laws in Hawaii

Find out how courts in Hawaii make custody decisions when one parent wants to relocate with the children after a divorce.

By , Attorney · Harvard Law School
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Separated and/or divorced parents typically share custodial time with their minor children, but when one parent wants to move out of state with the children, custody arrangements may become complicated. A noncustodial parent can go from being a few miles from a child, to several hundred miles, making regular weekend visitation impossible. When one parent wants to relocate with a child, the court must determine the custodial arrangement that best fits the child's interests, while respecting each parent's right to live where they choose. This article will explain how Hawaii courts determine child custody when a parent relocates.

Overview on Custody in Hawaii

Hawaii judges have the authority to determine the custody and visitation schedule for children whose parents were never married or are going through a separation or divorce. When deciding how to award custody, courts always try to determine what arrangement best meets the child's best interests.

When determining child custody, Hawaii judges may consider each of the following factors:

  • either parent's history of sexual or physical abuse
  • either parent's history of neglect or emotional abuse
  • the child's relationship with each parent
  • each parent's history of caregiving for the child
  • each parent's ability meet the child's needs, interests, and schedule
  • the child's physical health
  • the child's emotional needs
  • the child's educational needs
  • the child's safety
  • the child's relationships with siblings
  • each parent's willingness to allow the child to maintain family connections and participate in family events
  • each parent's mental health
  • whether there are conflicts in the family
  • either parent's history of drug or alcohol abuse, and
  • each parent's ability to separate their needs from the child's needs.

Also, when a child is old enough and mature enough to have a meaningful preference, the judge will consider the child's wishes when determining custody.

Courts will also look to see whether either parent has a history of violence and will only award such a parent custody with provisions to protect the physical and psychological wellbeing of the child in that person's care.

The court can also appoint a custody evaluator to investigate and prepare a report about the care of a minor child, and give the court an opinion on the best custody arrangement for the child. The court can also appoint a guardian ad litem who will represent the child's interest in the custody case. This guardian also has the power to investigate the conditions in each parent's residence, interview third parties, and provide a report and recommendation to the judge.

Relocation and Custody in Hawaii

Judges will consider modifying the custody order whenever changes warrant it. When a parent wants to relocate, particularly if a custodial parent desires to move with a child, the court will hold a hearing to determine what custody arrangement will best suit the child after the parent moves. Judges can choose to allow the custodial parent to move with the child and provide the other parent alternative means of visitation with the minor child, such as longer visits over the summer and other breaks such that the non-custodial parent can maintain the relationship with the child. The court may also grant the non-custodial parent visitation by electronic communication, like Skype or Facetime. Alternatively, the judge may decide the it's in the child's best interests to stay in the current location and transfer primary custody to the non-relocating parent.

The court will look at the reasons for a parent's move when determining whether to change custody. For example, in a case where a mother and father both lived in Hilo, and the mother planned to move to somewhere in California or Florida, the judge ordered that the mother would have primary custody of their son until she moved, at which time, custody would automatically transfer to the father. Since the mother's plans were so vague as to where she was moving and why, the court couldn't determine whether the move would be beneficial to the son. Given the uncertainty around the move, the court found that the best situation for the child was to stay with his father in Hawaii when the mother moved.

The court will also look at whether one parent has been cooperative regarding the other parent's visitation, but it won't necessarily decide custody based on this alone. For example, on one case, a mother was granted custody of the minor children and made visitation very difficult for the father. When the mother moved from Maui to Kahului, the father filed a motion to change custody to him from the mother. The judge found that the mother had obstructed the father's ability to exercise visitation, but also that the father had previously refused to release the children to the mother for a three-month period. The court also considered the fact that the children were happy with their mother and that it was in the children's best interests to remain with her.

If you or your child's other parent are thinking about relocating, you can expect the court to demand a thorough explanation of the reasons for the move. You should also expect that the judge will make great efforts to protect the child's relationship with the parent who does not have primary custody after the relocation. If you or your child's other parent wants to relocate with a child, you should contact a local family law attorney for advice.

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