CERTIORARI TO THE INTERMEDIATE COURT OF APPEALS (ICA NO. 28977; FC-D. NO. 06-1-0040)
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Duffy, J.
*** FOR PUBLICATION IN WEST'S HAWAI#I REPORTS AND PACIFIC REPORTER ***
Supreme Court SCWC-28977 24-AUG-2011 08:37 AM
RECKTENWALD, C.J., NAKAYAMA, ACOBA, DUFFY, AND McKENNA JJ.
OPINION OF THE COURT BY DUFFY, J.
(Application), urging this court to review the Intermediate Court of Appeal's (ICA) March 30, 2011 judgment on appeal in support of its February 28, 2011 summary disposition order (SDO), which affirmed the Family Court of the Fifth Circuit's (family court) October 1, 2007 decree granting absolute divorce.*fn1 Aaron's Application presents the following questions:
A. Did the [ICA] commit grave error when it changed the burden of proof for bifurcation in divorce cases from exceptionally compelling circumstances to good cause, thereby opening the floodgates for bifurcated divorce trials, in derogation of both ICA and Supreme Court precedent?
B. Did the [ICA] commit grave error when it affirmed an arbitrary and unnecessary bifurcation of a Kauai divorce case, where the family court utterly failed to indentify [sic] exceptionally compelling circumstances or good cause?
We accepted the Application on August 1, 2011 in order to clarify that the statutory requirement of "good cause" for bifurcation of a divorce case set forth in Hawai#i Revised Statutes (HRS) § 580-47(a) has not been abrogated. We hold that the family court may bifurcate divorce proceedings upon a finding of good cause. In this case, the family court's finding of good cause to bifurcate the divorce proceedings was supported by evidence in the record and was not an abuse of discretion.
This case arises from the divorce proceedings between Aaron and Respondent/Plaintiff-Appellee Bonnie MacLeod Kakinami (Bonnie).
Bonnie filed a complaint for divorce on March 9, 2006, alleging that the marriage was irretrievably broken. In his answer, Aaron admitted that the marriage was irretrievably broken.
Trial was originally set for August 10, 2007. Aaron moved to continue the trial, arguing that he needed more time to complete discovery because third parties had been slow to respond to his discovery requests. During the hearing on the motion to continue, the family court had the following discussion with Bonnie's counsel:
I think the bottom line is that [Aaron's counsel] is seeking a continuance. And it appears that, for reasons which I certainly don't understand, his subpoenas have been served, the responses have been slow in coming. And I think the last time we spoke . . . I had asked whether your client wanted to be divorced, we would bifurcate the division of assets and debts to a later time. That is still an option that is available to her if she chooses to do so. . . Because she may, just from a psychological emotional standpoint, just want to get divorced. . . . And that would certainly make her a little more tolerable of the delays that [Aaron's counsel] is encountering in getting the records.
The family court granted the continuance and reset the trial for December 7, 2007. The court also twice reminded Bonnie that she could file a motion to bifurcate if she wanted to obtain a divorce decree prior to the trial date.
Bonnie filed a motion to bifurcate on August 15, 2007, in which she argued, inter alia, as follows:
3. It has been 18 months since Plaintiff filed her complaint for divorce.
4. It has been close to 12 months since Plaintiff filed her Motion to Set.
5. Because of extensive discovery and alleged lagging discovery compliance by third parties, this matter has been in litigation for a year and a half.
6. Plaintiff desires to be divorced from Defendant.
7. Plaintiff requests that this court bifurcate the dissolution of her marriage from the final division of certain property and certain debts until the evidentiary portion of the divorce trial is concluded, presently scheduled for December 7, 2007.
Bonnie also requested the division of certain items of real and personal property prior to the trial.
The family court held a hearing on Bonnie's motion to bifurcate on August 27, 2007, and granted her request. During the same hearing, the court heard testimony from Bonnie regarding the dissolution of marriage. The court found that Bonnie had proven the material allegations of the complaint and was entitled to a divorce. The effective date of the decree granting absolute divorce was October 1, 2007. The decree: (1) dissolved Aaron and Bonnie's marriage; (2) terminated Aaron from Bonnie's medical insurance coverage; (3) allowed each party to change beneficiary designations on his or her insurance policies and retirement plans; (4) assigned possession of Aaron and Bonnie's vehicles; and (5) awarded the marital home to Aaron, provided that Aaron buy out Bonnie's interest. The family court reserved the division of property and debts not decided by the divorce decree until the December 7, 2007 trial.
On March 11, 2008, the family court entered its findings of fact and conclusions of law. The court made the following findings of fact:
3. The parties became embroiled in a series of discovery disputes through Defendant's Motions to Compel Discovery against Plaintiff and third parties and through Plaintiff's Motion for Protective Order.
4. The Court intervened on a number of occasions in order to resolve the discovery disputes.
5. Per Memorandum of Family Court . . . the trial of this matter was scheduled for August 10, 2007. . .
6. On July, 10, 2007 Defendant filed a Motion to Continue Trial . . .
13. Plaintiff objected to the motion for continuance as the divorce proceedings at point [sic] had taken almost a year and a half and the personal attack and viciousness of the proceedings had taken an emotional toll on Plaintiff.
17. The Court granted Defendant's motion to continue the trial. The trial date was re-set to December 7, 2007. . .
18. Plaintiff filed a Motion to Bifurcate Divorce on
21. As of August 27, 2007 the parties had been in litigation for approximately 18 months.
22. On August 27, 2007 the court granted Plaintiff's motion to bifurcate the divorce.
23. On August 27, 2007 Plaintiff made her prima facie case for divorce.
24. On August 27, 2007 the Court granted Plaintiff's complaint for divorce from Defendant, effective prospectively on October 1, 2007. At that hearing the court also made certain orders regarding division of property and debts.
26. On September 27, 2007 the order granting Plaintiff's Motion to Bifurcate was entered.
27. On October 1, 2007 the divorce decree was entered.
29. From the outset of this litigation, the parties have been extremely litigious.
30. Accusations against Plaintiff and/or her counsel by Defendant and his first counsel . . . fueled by charges of wrongdoing and bad faith ...