New Paternity Forms and
Procedures at Family Court

By: Bradley Coates
Special to the
Oahu Island News

Statistics show that about 18,000 births occur in Hawaii each year, and approximately 30 percent of them are out-of-wedlock. That’s characteristic of society nowadays and the trend is that many of society’s problems (ranging from spouse abuse to juvenile delinquency to teen pregnancy) default to the family courts. Not surprisingly, over 2,600 paternity cases are filed each year and about 4,000 are pending on any particular day. As Hawaii’s largest family law firm, Coates & Frey winds up right in the thick of it.

In the old days, the law was that a man became a legally responsible father only where a child was born during his marriage to the mother or through a paternity action. Since 1999, however, fathers have been able to establish legal parentage by signing a “Voluntary Establishment of Paternity” form at the hospital after the child’s birth. While voluntary establishment has made the creation of a parent-child relationship easier, it hasn’t done anything to resolve disputes over custody, visitation and support that can arise if mom and dad then split up. These cases wind up in family court, as do cases where there is a paternity judgment with post-judgment problems, such as adjustment of child support, withholding of court-ordered visitation, changes of custody and so forth.

In an effort to deal with this onslaught of paternity cases, the family court has come up with some new forms and procedures. The good news is that paternity cases will probably move through the system more efficiently. The bad news, however, is that the family court is still overwhelmed by the sheer volume of cases and can devote very little courtroom time to the many disputes that invariably arise between unmarried parents.

Among the improvements that the new forms will feature is a requirement that the parties inform the court of other pending or completed cases involving the same parties or children.

For example, if there is a domestic abuse restraining order involving one of the parties, the court will now be aware of that fact. The court is also adopting simplified financial disclosure statements, similar to (but much less complex than) those used in divorce cases. The court has also created a standardized, “check-the-box” judgment that will cover most issues.

On the procedural side, all initial paternity petitions will now get their first hearing on Friday mornings, about a month after filing. If there is agreement on any issues, that agreement can be memorialized on the standardized judgment form and the remaining, disputed issues will be set for a later trial.

If there is a complete agreement on all issues, then the judgment can be submitted to the judge and approved without further hearings. Motions where a party needs either a temporary order until trial, or some sort of order after the paternity judgment has been entered, will be heard on Thursday mornings, three to four weeks after filing. For cases where the Child Support Enforcement Agency is a party, the agency does not have to be formally “served” with process and the petition can merely be placed in a CSEA drop box at the court.

Due to the incredible volume of paternity cases that we now seem to be handling, we have established a paternity practice group at Coates & Frey. Our firm’s litigation director, Tom Farrell, will head up this new practice group and serve as our firm’s lead liaison with CSEA and Hawaii’s single-parent community.

Mr. Coates was assisted in writing this column by Associate Thomas D. Farrell. Prior to coming to Coates & Frey eight years ago, Mr. Farrell was a deputy attorney general for fourteen years, and represented Child Protective Services. This article contains general information; readers should not take any actions based on the “summarized” information contained herein. Instead, appropriate experts should be consulted. Phone: 524-4854 or visit