Whatever is determined to be in the “best interests of the child” has long been an overriding guiding principle in determining child custody arrangements in Hawaii and throughout the country. Absent special circumstances, such as domestic violence or drug abuse, family law judges recognize the value in the child having a close relationship with both parents. Despite these considerations, child custody has historically been favorable to the mother. Recently, however, fathers have become more equal partners in raising children after the parents part ways.

The antiquated notion that mothers are simply better caretakers of their children than the fathers has been slow to erode. Expert researchers report as recently as the 1980s, mothers were awarded sole custody in approximately 80 percent of the cases studied. A quarter of a century later, that number had been cut in half, and the trend toward more balanced joint custody arrangements continues. However, each case must be viewed uniquely, and there are often valid reasons for something other than a 50/50 arrangement.

There are two forms of custody: legal custody, which involves major life decisions such as religion and education choices, and physical custody. Legal custody is more often granted equally to both parents while an evenly split joint custody arrangement would often prove too cumbersome and therefore is not in the child’s best interests. Even with a greater equality in the workplace for women, physical custody is awarded more favorably to the mother.

It is important to realize that family courts are very willing to accept an agreement between the couple regarding child custody and other matters such as child support, property division and relocation. An experienced family law attorney may provide counsel and advice regarding these important legal decisions during the divorce process.