In Hawaii, there are two types of child custody: legal custody and physical custody.
The Family Court is required to consider specific criteria in awarding custody. The Court may award joint custody or primary custody to one parent with visitation rights to the noncustodial parent.
Parents awarded joint legal custody jointly make major decisions that affect their child.
What are those “major decisions”?
Religion, choice of school, nonemergency medical decisions, parental consent to get a driver’s license, marry or join the armed services if under the age of legal consent (age 18), and counseling.
What factors does the Family Court consider?
The Court may award joint legal custody if the parents agree. The Court may award joint legal custody over the objection of either or both parents if the Court believes it is in the best interests of the minor.
Is the Family Court limited in its decision?
No. The Family Court has wide discretion in making its custody decision governed only by the standard that the Court must act in the best interest of the child.
What is best for kids?
With certain exceptions, major decisions affecting children ought to be made by both parents.
Here are the major decisions most parents need to make and ought to make jointly if at all possible:
Medical needs. Joint decision making helps parents to focus on the best medical care for their children which ought to include divorce counseling. Whether you decide to designate one parent to communicate primarily with health care professionals or attend medical appointments together, keep one another in the loop.
- Education. School plays a major role in maintaining a stable environment for a child. Parents need to cooperate about class schedules, extracurricular activities, parent-teacher conferences and possible adjustments to the visitation schedule.
- Financial issues. Maintaining two separate households after divorce can cause enormous stress. Set a realistic budget and keep accurate records for shared expenses.
It will not be perfect. Parents often seek a divorce because they fail to communicate and joint legal custody requires a high degree of cooperation and civility.
Disagreements are inevitable. Try to be patient and positive. Here are a few suggestions.
Mutual Respect. Respect and courtesy include making sure the other parent knows about school events, extracurricular activities being flexible about schedule changes.
Listen. Try reflective listening. Reduce or eliminate distractions. Turn OFF your cell phone. Try empathizing with the other parent’s point of view. Don’t be judgmental.
- Keep talking. It might sound tedious, but if you disagree about something important, you will need to continue to communicate about the topic. Never discuss your differences of opinions with or in front of your child. If you still can’t agree, you may need to talk to a third party, like a therapist or mediator.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff. If you disagree an important issue like medical surgery or choice of school for your child keep the discussion going. But if you want your child in bed by 7:30 and the other parent says 7:00 you might want to let it go and save your energy a bigger issue.
- Compromise. Nobody likes to compromise but it enables you both to be more flexible in the future.
Joint legal custody is joint decision making. It doesn’t work for everybody. It requires patience and cooperation but it is best for children. Joint legal custody requires communication. It is not recommended if physical or emotional abuse is present in the relationship.