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Honolulu Family Law Blog

DNA paternity tests

In Hawaii and across the United States, DNA paternity tests are now commonly used in courtrooms to determine if a man must provide child support. Sometimes, DNA can determine whether a parent should have custody of a child. DNA test results will inform the court about a man's legal duties toward a child. A man who is not the child's true biological parent is not legally responsible for taking care of the child. A DNA paternity test provides close to 100% accurate results.

An unmarried woman who conceives a child cannot automatically assume that her partner is the baby's legal father. Instead, the man is called an "alleged father." His name is not mentioned on the child's birth certificate. However, an alleged father can later become the child's legal parent based on positive DNA paternity test results. In this case, a judge will inform the father that he must pay child support. The court may even grant the father legal custody of his child.

Voluntary impoverishment and child support payments

In Hawaii and across the United States, ex-spouses often practice "voluntary impoverishment." A former spouse who does not want to make child support payments uses the tactic as a way to manipulate the law. A person practicing voluntary impoverishment may lie to the Internal Revenue Service by reporting less income than they earn. The ex-spouse may refuse to work at high-paying jobs or abandon all forms of employment. A parent relying on child support checks may no longer have the ability to take care of their child.

A person who believes their ex-spouse is voluntarily impoverished may want to call the Office of Child Support Enforcement. Signs to watch out for include unemployment when there is no need for lack of work or a menial job even though the ex-spouse was formerly a professional. Sometimes, spouses make verbal child support agreements. Contacting an official government agency can help the custodial parent gain control of the situation. A court may disregard verbal contracts as not holding the weight of the law.

Protecting children emotionally during a divorce

Children in Hawaii may suffer when their parents go through a divorce. It is well-known that kids can feel alone and insecure when their parents separate. They may fear being abandoned themselves or torn between their loyalties to both of their parents. For some children, the psychological scars of a parental divorce can persist for years to come. However, parents can also take action to help support their children to emerge from the divorce with a relatively positive experience and strong relationships with both parents. When parents take the lead, they can help their children to deal with change in a healthy manner.

When parents divorce, they are not bringing their relationship to an end. Because of the children, they are transforming their relationship from a romantic partnership to a co-parenting agreement. When parents can put their differences aside to work together for the children, this can lead to better outcomes for everyone. Parents who cooperate in co-parenting can also help to lessen the damaging feeling of divided loyalties to their parents. Children can feel comfortable and safe expressing love for both of their parents without fearing that they will offend one parent by mentioning the other.

Mediation has many benefits over litigation

When faced with the divorce process, it's easy to assume you'll square off against your soon-to-be ex-spouse in a courtroom setting. While your case may eventually move to litigation, it doesn't have to. Many divorcing couples find that mediation is a better way to settle their differences.

Here are some of the many benefits of mediation over litigation:

  • You maintain more control over the process
  • Less time-consuming than litigation
  • Less stressful than litigation
  • More affordable than litigation

Prenups better than separate accounts for protecting assets

The simplest, best way for couples to ensure their assets are protected in Hawaii may be a prenuptial agreement. Millennials are agreeing to prenups more frequently than before, as is the population overall. Keeping assets separate has become easier and millennials are doing that too. Among people from that generation, 28% do not have joint bank accounts with their spouses and do not commingle their assets. Apps like Zelle and Venmo make it easier to split things down the middle in real time, and many millennials have seen the difficulties that can arise when dividing assets in divorce.

Separate bank accounts and even separate ownership of assets may not mean separate legal ownership if the couple divorces. Most of the states divide assets between former spouses based on an equitable distribution. This means the couple's assets may be pooled together, even if they've been keeping them separate, and divided fairly, which may not be equally. Cases vary widely based on the facts, and the judge has wide discretion.

Child support payments show significant variation by state

A study by Custody X Change found that a typical child support payment in Hawaii was among the highest of all states, ranging from $881 to $1,187 monthly. However, if the parent moved to another state, such as Oregon, the payments might decrease significantly to $400-$528 monthly. A parent who crossed the border into Washington might once again be paying the same higher amounts as in Hawaii.

Custody X Change calculated the amounts by imagining a hypothetical couple with two children and a combined income of $100,000, which is generally higher than the average income for a family with two earners. Although this is higher than the average figure arrived at by census data and Pew Research, it still shows the wide disparity in child support payments. Payments can vary within states and jurisdictions as well. For example, different courts may reach different conclusions about how the time the child spends with each parent affects the amount.

How to treat inherited IRAs in a divorce

There is no true consensus as to whether an inherited IRA can be included in an divorce settlement. However, this doesn't change the fact that inherited IRAs have been a part of divorce settlements in Hawaii and throughout the nation in the past. Often, they are allowed by courts to be split tax-free as long as it is done pursuant to a court order. Once a court has made such an order, an IRA administrator is not likely to defy it.

Changes to the tax treatment of alimony have made inherited IRAs popular bargaining chips in divorce settlements. However, it is not clear if they should be labeled marital property to begin with. This is because inherited items are generally considered to be separate property even if they were transferred during the marriage.

Social security is a consideration in divorce

When a Hawaii couple comes to the conclusion that their marriage is better viewed as past history, then property division, child custody and child support seem to demand most of their attention. These issues need to be addressed and settled first, but it is important to realize that other matters will impact the former spouses as they begin their post-divorce separate lives. Hawaii is an equitable distribution state, and marital assets and debts are evaluated and divided between the two in a fair, or equitable, manner. Social security benefits may be considered as a marital asset based on the facts and circumstances of the marriage.

Retirement experts can explain that if a marriage lasted at least 10 years, an ex-spouse may be able to collect benefits based on the other spouse's earnings record. However, the term of the union is simply a threshold requirement, and other issues such as age, marital status, entitlement to one's own social security benefits and others come into play.

How divorce can affect insurance coverage

For anyone ending a marriage in Hawaii, there are many emotional, practical and financial considerations involved. Because of the complexities of divorce, it's surprisingly easy to overlook insurance-related matters. However, it's still important for couples separating to be aware of how no longer being legally wed can affect their various insurance policies.

It's usually life and health insurance policies that come into play as a marriage ends. With health insurance, it's typically the higher-earning spouse who covers the other one on a plan they have through their employment. A non-income-earning spouse can also continue to be covered on a former spouse's policy for up to three years because of the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, or COBRA. Another option is for spouse without their own coverage to see what's available on exchanges established under the Affordable Care Act.

How to take a summer vacation with your children after divorce

Your divorce is in the past (or you're in the process), but that doesn't necessarily mean you'll never again talk to your ex-spouse. If you have children together, it's imperative to work closely with one another to provide a stable environment.

With the summer months right around the corner, you may have some interest in taking your children on a vacation. Doing so sounds simple enough, but you must consider the finer details of your custody agreement. This is negotiated during your divorce.

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