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 can be exceptions.
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.
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, this is considered “joint physical custody” and 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 arrangement. This is not true, except when the gross incomes of the parents are close to equal.
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.
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.
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 continues. A divorce decree or paternity judgment does not have to mention private education or higher education expenses; it is an issue that the parties can defer to a later time.
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.” 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 is 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.
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.