In 1988 the Hawaiʻi administrative process for child support was created pursuant to federal law to provide a faster way to establish, modify, and enforce child support obligations. Hawaiʻi Revised Statutes (H.R.S.) Chapters 576E and 91 govern the proceedings.
The administrative process begins with an application by a party (the responsible or paying parent, the custodial parent, or the Department of Human Services if the subject child is receiving welfare benefits) to the Child Support Enforcement Agency, (CSEA) requesting the establishment, modification, termination, or enforcement of a child support order. A hearing is scheduled when a party requests a hearing on a child support proposal by the CSEA. The CSEA may also schedule a hearing on its own proposal.
OCSH Administrative Orders Have the Same Force and Effect as Family Court Orders
The Hawaiʻi Office of Child Support Hearings (OCSH) issues administrative orders about child support that have the same force and effect as Family Court orders. OCSH has no jurisdiction to issue orders regarding visitation, custody or property division. However, when the only issue to be resolved is child support, the administrative process offers a less formal alternative to potentially lengthy and costly court proceedings.
The Difference Between OCSH and CSEA
OCSH are CSEA are both divisions of the State of Hawaiʻi Department of the Attorney General. However, the two divisions serve different purposes and are separate and distinct.
The CSEA is similar to a prosecutor’s office in gathering information and then presenting it to the court. OCSH acts like a court for the administrative proceeding by hearing testimony and receiving evidence from parents and the CSEA. The two divisions maintain separate offices with separate addresses, separate telephone numbers, and separate fax numbers. The OCSH (like the Family Courts) issues child support orders and the CSEA enforces child support orders by collecting and disbursing the child support amounts ordered. CSEA employees represent the State of Hawaiʻi in OCSH proceedings. They do not represent the interests of either parent or the OCSH.
Parties at a Child Support Hearing
CSEA (representing the State) and both parents are the parties who appear at the hearing and present evidence in support of their respective positions concerning the proposed child support order. The parent who receives child support is called the Custodial Parent and the parent who must pay child support is called the Responsible Parent. If a child is living with someone other than a parent, that person is also a party to the child support proceeding and will be called the Custodial Parent in the proceeding, even if they do not have legal custody of the child.
Issues at a Child Support Hearing
The issues at a child support hearing are usually limited to the issues raised in the proposed administrative order served upon the parties by the CSEA. A proposed administrative order may propose child support establishment, modification, or termination, or the enforcement of a child support order by enforcement actions available such as wage withholding, tax refund intercept, credit bureau reporting or license suspension.
Parties should read thoroughly all documents they receive from the CSEA and the OCSH. These documents will explain the action the CSEA is proposing and how to contest it. As neither the CSEA nor the OCSH can give parties legal advice, the parties have to determine how best to present their case at the hearing and what evidence they want to introduce. Parties can represent themselves at the hearing, have someone else represent them, or hire an attorney to represent them.
Decisions Issued by OCSH Hearing Officers
At the hearing the hearing officer reviews the evidence presented in support of the parties’ positions and issues an order based upon the laws and the Hawaiʻi Child Support Guidelines. That order has the same force and effect as a Family Court Order as the OCSH has concurrent jurisdiction with the Family Court for child support matters. H.R.S. § 576E-2. Parties who object to an OCSH order issued after a hearing may appeal to the Family Court.
The staff of the Office of Child Support Hearings consists of its supervisor, Erin Sugita, three Hearings Officers, a Legal Assistant, a Legal Clerk, and two Office Assistants.