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.



Child Custody and Visitation in Hawaii

Hawaii Family Law Definitions, A to Z

The Hague Abduction Convention

Protection from Parental Disputes


Child custody proceedings are often ugly, draw out processes that permanently scar families and children.  In an attempt to minimize the effect of parental conflict, the Hawaii Family Court of the First Circuit (Oahu) put together its “Protection from Parental Disputes.”  The Court frequently requests that the Protection from Parental Disputes language be inserted in divorce decrees and other custody orders, in hopes of lessening the impact on children of divorcing/separating parents.  Even if many parents forget or ignore the Protection language, if it improves just a small percentage of children’s lives in this traumatizing period, it is a worthwhile insertion.  If you are involved in a divorce or custody action, think about cutting and pasting or attaching the Court’s language (below) into your own document.

General Behavior of the Parties: Protection from Parental Disputes and Alienation The parties recognize that they can do much to minimize any possible negative impact of their divorce on the children. To this end, each of the parties agrees that he or she will always support the children in having the best possible relationship with the other parent. The parties further agree that:

  • a. Neither parent shall engage in, nor permit/encourage any step-parent, fiancee, significant other, grandparent, other relative or other associate, to criticize, disparage, demand, insult, or otherwise “bad-mouth” the other parent, step-parent, significant other, or grandparent to the children or in the presence or hearing of the children. This prohibition shall apply even to information that is truthful and accurate.
  • b. Neither parent shall fight (verbally or physically) – in person or by telephone – in the presence or hearing of the children.
  • c. Neither parent shall align or attempt to align the children against the other parent (or other relative), nor allow or encourage anyone else (including relatives and friends) to do so. Neither parent shall directly or indirectly ask the children to choose between parents, to choose to reside with one parent instead of the other, or to choose one household over the other household.
  • d. Neither parent shall ask the children to pass orders or instructions or uncomplimentary messages to the other parent (orally or in writing). Complimentary messages are allowed, and encouraged.
  • e. Neither parent shall ask the children to “keep secrets from” the other parent or ask or encourage the children to lie to the other parent about events or persons the children experienced during a visit with the other parent, grandparent or relative.
  • f. Neither parent shall ask the children to “spy on” the other parent or the other parent’s lifestyle or household nor ask any detailed, “probing” questions about the other parent or lifestyle or household of the other parent.
  • g. Both parents shall encourage a positive parent-child relationship between the children and the other parent, and shall not say or do anything (including “grimace” or put on a “long face”) to adversely affect the children’s love for the other parent.
  • h. Neither parent shall interfere with the parent-child relationship with the other parent, and neither parent shall conceal the children from the other parent during the other parent’s period of responsibility.
  • i. In general they will always do whatever they reasonably can to ensure that there is as much consistency and continuity as possible in the manner in which a child receives guidance and nurturance in all areas of his or her life.

While inserting this type of language into custody documents will not necessarily stop this type of bad parenting behavior, it may show parents what types of behavior the Family Court finds acceptable.

Three More Countries Sign on to Hague Child Abduction Treaty

International child custody disputes require an understanding of the Hague Convention

International child custody disputes require an understanding of the Hague Convention


Three countries, Albania, Singapore, and Ukraine have signed the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, on February 1, 2013.  This boosts the number of cooperating countries to over 90, including the U.S.   The treaty calls for signatory countries to cooperate in the return of children to a country that has a child custody order, when parents have attempted to flee to another country (see our more detailed discussion of the Hague Convention here).

Family lawyers in Hawaii are anxiously awaiting final approval and ratification by another closely linked country, Japan, which has promised to fast track ratification of the Hague Convention this year.  The Japan Times noted that Japan is the only member of the G-8 nations to not yet ratify the Convention.

Custody Exchanges Often a Flashpoint for Anger


The news is filled with explosive headlines about anger and violence during child custody exchanges between parents:

These stories underline what good family lawyers already know — that custody exchanges are a flashpoint.  Often times, this is a mixture of an already angry situation between two parties, typically fighting over custody/visitation, and a tense scene where they must meet face-to-face.

Even in custody situations where there is no active fighting or anger, the discomfort of seeing talking with the ex can cause problems.  Because this may be the only time that the two parents see each other in person, one or both parents may wish to talk about issues that they cannot properly address by e-mail, texting, or even phone calls.  This can raise the temperature on the situation even more than usual.

Understanding this, judges and attorneys faced with potentially volatile custody cases will frequently try to set up custody/visitation exchanges which which diffuse or avoid such tense situations.  Some options which parents should consider are:

  • exchanges at a public place with lots of foot traffic, such as a shopping mall, or McDonald’s (a favorite for Hawaii exchanges);
  • Honolulu Police Department stations — although this is reserved for fairly serious situations, as most would prefer to minimize this kind of alarm to the children;
  • hand-offs by “friendly” third parties, such as family or friends, so as to avoid the face-to-face by the two parents (caveat:  having the exchange done by the new boyfriend/girlfriend of one of the parents may not be any better, and may even be worse);
  • exchanges done without both parties being present, typically at school/afterschool program (example:  picking up on Friday afterschool, or dropping off Monday at school, both instances where the parties do not come into contact); and
  • hand-offs arranged such that the parties do not have to come in contact with one another (for example, the dropping-off parent stays in the car, and the receiving parent stays in the house, and the child walks from car to house unaccompanied, but both parents watching).

This is just a sampling of suggestions, but many other creative solutions exist for those parents, attorneys, and judges committed to avoiding potentially bad situations.  To speak with attorneys experienced in dealing with complicated and heated custody matters, give us a call at 593-2199, and we will be happy to talk to you.

Custody Disputes Between States/Countries


Resolving custody disputes between parents who live in different jurisdictions is particularly complicated.  Before even getting to the dispute over where the child should live, the parties and courts must decide where the case is decided.  Fortunately federal guidance as to which state should hear a custody case was created in the form of the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (“UCCJEA”) a federal statute aimed at determining which state should have authority over a child custody case.  Nearly every state in the U.S. ( along with the District of Columbia, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands), except Massachusetts has adopted the UCCJEA by passing its own state law incorporating the language of the UCCJEA.  In Hawaii, the Hawaii Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act is located in Hawaii Revised Statutes section 583A.

Cases related to a parent traveling (or moving, or fleeing) to another country after orders are made, are typically addressed under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.  This is an especially complex area of law, which is briefly discussed on our page the Hague Abduction Convention.  In these types of cases, it is especially important to find an experienced custody attorney to assist you.

Co-Parenting in Anger

Co-Parenting in Anger

A good piece by Miriam Novogrodsky of the HuffPo, about the effects of lingering anger between parents upon the children, which really made me think about anger and kids.
I often like to tell my clients that being able to move on from anger in their divorce or split-up (a lot of custody cases aren’t between married people) is valuable and necessary for both their own health and their children’s health.

“. . .they will see their ex at their child’s occasion, and have a knot in their stomach from that simmering resentment.”

Even when we have a client that “wins” (I try to avoid to use that word regarding custody of children), I tell them that they need to let go of the anger against their ex, even if well-deserved.  This is especially so because they’re going to share this connection of their child for years to come.  There will be happy occasions like their child’s school performance or graduation — and if they are still holding that anger — they will see their ex at their child’s occasion, and have a knot in their stomach from that simmering resentment.  What should be a memorable, celebratory event becomes one of anger and discomfort.  Then I ask the question, “is that ‘winning’?”  Because to me, really “winning” means being happy and having happy, healthy kids.  A parent putting aside one’s anger against their ex is good for both them and their children.

— Gavin, 4/12/2012