Child Support

When the Family Court determines custody and timesharing of a child, the Court will almost always determine that one parent owes child support to the other for the support and maintenance of the child. Pursuant to Hawaii Revised Statutes Section 571-52.5, the Court is required to apply the Hawaii Child Support Guidelines to determine the amount of child support to be paid. The most recent version of the Guidelines are reflected in the 2014 Child Support Guidelines Worksheet (“CSGW”).

The inputs that determine the amount of child support you may have to pay – or will be receiving – are: 1) each parent’s monthly gross income from all sources, 2) the number of children, 3) credits for child care expenses, 4) credit for health insurance, and 5) timesharing. If one parent has fewer than 143 overnights with the child per year, then we use the “normal” timesharing guidelines. If the parties have equal timesharing, or if the non-custodial parent has more than 143 overnights per year, then we apply the “extensive timesharing” guidelines.

The Court can deviate from the CSGW if one (1) of ten (10) exceptions to the Guidelines exists. Be advised that the Court rarely finds that there is an exception to following the Guidelines because the exceptions rarely apply – hence why they are considered “exceptions.”

Child support is almost always paid through the Child Support Enforcement Agency (CSEA), and pursuant to Hawaii law, it is almost always paid by way of an Order Withholding Income (OWI) – otherwise known as a garnishment. Because garnishment is the law in Hawaii, you should not consider it (and employers do not consider it) a statement about your character if you have to pay child support pursuant to an OWI.

The CSEA enforces child support orders and assists the receiving parent in the collection of past due support. If there has been a significant change in your financial circumstances – for example, your income increases or decreases by more than 10% or day care or health insurance expenses change substantially – then you may request that CSEA or the Family Court modify child to take account of the change. You may automatically request a review of child support once every three years even when there has been no change in the financial circumstances of the parties.

FAQs

How is child support determined?
Hawaii has a mandatory formula which the court will follow called the “Child Support Guidelines.” The variables in the formula are the number of children, the gross monthly incomes of the parents, and the medical insurance and day care costs for the children. This data is entered into a worksheet, and the required amount is then computed. Generally, the parties are not allowed to deviate from the amount shown on the worksheet, but there are rare exceptions.

Why must child support be paid through CSEA?
Because non-payment of child support was a chronic problem, Hawaii passed legislation many years ago requiring that it be automatically deducted from the obligor’s paycheck, just like taxes. The employer withholds the support amount from each paycheck, and sends it to the Child Support Enforcement Agency, which then cuts a check to the custodial parent. Although there are cases of delays and errors, for the most part this has been a very efficient approach. However, the parties can opt for direct payment from one parent to the other if both agree in writing, if the children have never been on welfare, and if the payor has never been delinquent.

How does custody affect child support?
Currently, the guidelines assume that the non-custodial parent will have up to 143 days per year of “visitation” with the child. If the time-sharing plan provides more than that, the non-custodial parent gets a pro rata reduction for each day beyond 143. If the time-sharing plan provides equal time to both parents, another set of computations are used which significantly reduces child support. Many people believe that neither parent pays child support to the other in a joint physical custody or equal time-sharing arrangement. This is not true, except when the gross incomes of the parents are close to equal.

How does alimony affect child support?
Child support is based on the gross incomes of the parents. If one parent pays alimony to the other, the alimony is deducted from his gross income and added to the gross income of the recipient. If the alimony recipient is also the custodial parent, receipt of alimony means less child support.

How long is the support obligation?
In Hawaii, the obligation to support children runs at least until age 18 or high school graduation, whichever occurs last. The Child Support Enforcement Agency will not enforce a support obligation beyond this point. However, the court can order support to continue beyond high school if the child is attending college on a full-time basis or is enrolled in an accredited vocational training program. In this situation, the child support amount will not automatically be computed using the guidelines formula. Instead, the court will consider the reasonable needs of the child, both parents’ ability to pay, and the college student’s ability to contribute to his own support through scholarships, loans, or part-time work.

What about educational expenses?
If the parties agree, or if the court orders it after a trial, one or both parents may be obligated to pay private educational expenses from kindergarten through high school. Private education expenses are paid in addition to child support. These expenses are usually defined as tuition, books, and mandatory fees. School lunches, transportation, school supplies, and clothing are normally considered to be covered by the payment of child support. Preschool programs prior to kindergarten are normally considered to be day care, which is covered by the payment of child support. When a child has previously been attending private school, the court will normally order that this continue. A divorce decree or paternity judgment does not have to mention private education expenses; it is an issue that the parties can defer to a later time.

How can I modify a support order?
The fastest way to get child support increased or decreased is to file a motion (or, if there is an agreement, a “stipulation”) in Family Court. Either party can ask for a modification whenever there has been a “material change in circumstances,” or not more than once every three years without demonstrating a material change. Most often, the change is a significant increase or decrease in one party’s income. In Hawaii, child support can only be modified retroactive to the date of the request, not to the date of the change in circumstances. Therefore, the party who will benefit from the change should seek it promptly. In cases where child support is paid through the Child Support Enforcement Agency, a party can request that the agency initiate a modification through its administrative process. While this process does not require an attorney, it can be slow. In many cases, it is well worth the attorney’s fees to hire a lawyer and seek modification through Family Court, instead of using the Child Support Enforcement Agency.

How can I enforce a support order?
A child support order, whether it was issued in Hawaii or elsewhere, can be enforced just about anywhere the obligor or his property can be found. Methods of enforcement include garnishment of wages and seizure of property. In extreme cases, the court can hold the obligor in contempt and order incarceration until the support is paid. Through the Child Support Enforcement Agency, other remedies against those who fail or refuse to pay include tax refund intercept, and revocation of licenses and passports.