Custody Evaluators, Fact Finders, and the Custody Investigation Unit – Determining Custody in the Hawaii Family Courts

When people are dealing with child custody in the Family Court in Hawaii, the terms can be confusing. Are you going to hire a CE? Select an FF? Qualify for the CIU? Abbreviations aside, these are all different methods of investigation, to help the Family Court judges reach decisions on child custody: Custody Evaluators, Fact Finders, and the Custody Investigation Unit.

Whether the custody case is in a divorce or a paternity action, here is a brief overview of the choices:

Custody Evaluator (“CE”):

this is an individual appointed by a Family Court judge to investigate a child custody matter. A CE must either be a licensed psychologist, marriage and family therapist, psychiatrist, or social worker. Qualified individuals need to be on the Court’s list to appointed as a CE. These individuals typically charge a flat fee for to conduct their investigation and provide a written report to the Court, and sometimes testify at a hearing or trial. As private practice professionals, the fees can be considerable.

Fact Finder (“FF”):

also referred to as “Best Interests Fact Finders,” these are individuals who can be appointed for a custody investigation. They differ from CEs however, in that they do not need to be a licensed psychologist/therapist/psychiatrist/social worker. FFs must have education and training in child custody evaluation, and are most often family lawyers (who did the bulk of the custody investigations prior to a law change requiring CEs to have the therapy-related licenses noted above). FFs can only be appointed by mutual agreement of the parents (or if the Court determines that no qualified CEs are available, which is highly unlikely). FF fees are often flat fees, like CE fees, and similarly priced.

Custody Investigation Unit (“CIU”):

the CIU is an office with the Courts that has a staff of social workers to conduct custody investigations. Like CEs and FFs, they will investigate then generate a written report to the appointing judge with their findings and recommendations. If called to do so, they will testify as witnesses at hearing or trial, regarding their report. A significant difference from a CE or FF however, is that the CIU does not charge a fee, as it is part of the Judiciary. Cases must income qualify for use of the CIU, where the Court looks at the incomes of both parents and family size.

Custody recommendations vs. decisions.

It is important to note that none of the above investigators make the final decision on child custody and visitation. These entities only provide assistance to the Court by presenting their observations and findings; the final decision if a case goes to hearing or trial always rests with the Family Court judge.

Choosing a route.

If parties are going to go through a custody investigation, it is advisable that they speak to a knowledgeable family lawyer about what type of investigation, and if necessary how to select which specific individual they might choose.

Are child custody problems keeping you up at night?  It’s an extremely stressful process.  If you have questions about child custody and visitation, and would like to set up a consult, e-mail us or call us at 593-2199. We’ll be happy to hear from you.



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About Gavin K. Doi

Gavin, a founding partner of Doi/Luke, was born and reared in Honolulu, Hawai‘i, graduating from McKinley High School, and receiving his Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Reed College in Portland, Oregon. He received his Juris Doctorate from the University of Denver College of Law in Denver, Colorado. Previously, Gavin worked with the Child Support Enforcement Agency and the AmeriCorps Domestic Violence Clinic. An advocate of pro bono legal work, Gavin volunteers time with Volunteer Legal Services Hawaii and the Hawai’i State Bar Association. In 2013, Gavin co-authored the book Child Custody Litigation and Settlements (Aspatore Books/Thomson West), penning the section "Working with Your Client Towards a Successful Child Custody Case." Gavin is a member of the Hawaii State Bar Association and the HSBA Family Law Section, and was presented with the 2002 Justice Award by the Hawaii State Bar Association, which honors one lawyer annually for their outstanding contribution to the ideals of justice. The Hawaii Access to Justice Commission honored Gavin in 2012 for his pro bono service to the community. Gavin has extensive experience in divorce, paternity, child custody, child support, restraining orders, and other family law matters, and has a Distinguished rating with Martindale-Hubble®/, and an Avvo rating of 10 out of 10. He can be e-mailed at: .

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