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Hawaii Divorce Laws and Timelines

9 min read
Rachael Goldstein, Attorney

by Rachael Goldstein, Attorney

Deciding to file for divorce can be an emotional process. Dealing with the practical realities of ending a marriage in a unique state like Hawaii can seem particularly difficult.

Like all other locations, the Aloha State has its own divorce laws that outline how proceedings are carried out. Understanding Hawaii’s requirements will lead to a smoother transition toward beginning your new life.

How Long Do Divorces in Hawaii Take?

In theory, an uncontested divorce in Hawaii could take just a month or two if all paperwork is filed quickly and accurately and the court’s schedule permits a quick review. There is no minimum waiting period for courts in the state to approve a divorce.

Contested divorces, where disagreements arise, will lead to more complex proceedings that will take longer. You’ll usually need to go through discovery, mediation, and potentially all the way to trial.  

This means a contested divorce in Hawaii could extend well beyond several months into a year or more due to the complexity of negotiations and litigation required to resolve disputes.

Divorce Process in Hawaii

Navigating a divorce can be complex, but understanding the steps involved can make it easier to manage. The divorce process may vary slightly depending on the jurisdiction, but here’s a general overview of each stage of the divorce process in Hawaii:

Step 1: Preparing the Initial Hawaii State Divorce Papers

In this initial phase, you or your lawyer must prepare several key documents. Hawaii’s requirements include a divorce complaint, a summons, and a matrimonial action information sheet.

Step 2: Filing the Divorce Papers

With all your initial divorce paperwork in order, the next step involves formally filing them with your local family circuit court. You or your attorney will either walk into the court clerk’s office and file them in person, or utilize Hawaii’s electronic filing system.

If you go in person, be sure to collect a stamped copy from the clerk. These serve as proof of filing and are necessary for serving your spouse. 

Step 3: Serving Your Spouse

Once the filing is completed, you’ll need to serve copies of your forms on your spouse. This can be handled easily if your spouse cooperates – simply provide the papers directly to them so they can sign Hawaii’s Appearance and Waiver form

However, if they do not agree to receive this paperwork amicably or are hard to reach, you may have to consider alternative service methods. In these cases, you will need the sheriff or another qualified adult not connected to the case to deliver it personally. A lawyer will also be able to facilitate this for you.

When your spouse is residing outside of the court circuit where you filed, you may be given permission from the court to mail these documents using registered or certified mail, with requested return receipt as proof of delivery.

Step 4: Wait for Spouse to Respond

After being served with the divorce paperwork, your spouse typically has 20 days to file an official response, also known as an “answer.” The answer allows them to express agreement or disagreement with the statements made in your divorce complaint and may include disagreements on matters like custody or division of property.

If your spouse does not respond within this time frame, the court may proceed with default procedures, in which case the divorce can be granted without any input from the non-responding spouse. This means that your requests for divorce and related terms like alimony made in the complaint could be accepted exactly as you’ve stated them.

Step 5: Financial Disclosures

Both parties are required to exchange financial disclosures early in the process of a contested divorce. Hawaii asks for an Income and Expense Statement as well as an Asset and Debt Statement. These statements lay the groundwork for negotiations related to alimony, child support calculations, and the division of marital property.

Step 6: Parenting Education Course

As part of Hawaii’s commitment to ensuring that parents remain focused on the welfare of their children during and after a divorce, the courts require that divorcing parents with minor children attend a parenting education course.

Step 7: Finalize Divorce

Once all documents have been accurately completed and submitted and any necessary financial disclosures or educational programs are fulfilled, the court can approve the divorce fairly quickly if it’s uncontested.

The actual time frame largely depends on how busy the circuit’s family court is with its caseload. If your case doesn’t raise any complex issues needing further examination or mediation, you could receive your final judgment just months after initial filing – sometimes without even needing an in-court appearance.

Finalizing a Contested Divorce

In contested divorce cases where spouses cannot initially agree on issues such as property division, spousal support, or child custody arrangements, the process inevitably becomes lengthier. Most couples do ultimately find common ground through negotiation assisted by their lawyers or through mediation, which the judge may order to facilitate a resolution outside of court.

However, even with settlements before trial proceedings begin, ironing out all details and paperwork can take at least several months from start to finish. 

If a settlement is beyond reach despite these efforts and your case goes to trial, you should be prepared for the process to take quite a bit longer, potentially longer than a year.

Hawaii’s Residency Requirements for Divorce

To file for divorce in Hawaii, the general rule is that at least one spouse must have been domiciled or physically present for at least three continuous months preceding the filing of the complaint in the judicial circuit where they intend on filing. This local connection ensures that Hawaii courts have proper jurisdiction over the divorce proceedings.

Hawai’i Judicial CircuitsLocation
First CircuitO’ahu, and any islands that are not part of other circuits
Second CircuitMaui, Moloka’i, Lana’i, Kaho’olawe and Molokini
Third CircuitIsland of Hawai’i
Fifth Circuit [sic]Kaua’i and Ni’ihau

Approximate Cost to File for Divorce in Hawaii 

Filing for divorce in Hawaii requires paying a filing fee, which typically is set at $215 for divorces without minor children involved and $265 if there are minor children.

These fees are just the starting point and can increase significantly if you choose to work with divorce attorneys in Hawaii, who will charge for their divorce services on top of these fees. While attorney representation generally leads to additional costs, they provide valuable legal guidance throughout your divorce proceedings.

Understanding that full representation might not be within everyone’s means or even necessary for every aspect of a case, unbundled legal services offer a more affordable alternative. This model allows individuals to hire an attorney only for specific parts of their case – such as drafting documents or offering limited advice – which could significantly reduce overall expenses while still providing legal support where it is most needed.

Recognized Reasons for Divorce in Hawaii

In Hawaii, a divorce can be granted based on any of the following no-fault grounds:

  1. The marriage is irretrievably broken. This is a catch-all no-fault reason that indicates the marriage cannot be saved or repaired. As long as one spouse claims the marriage is irretrievably broken, a divorce can take place. 
  1. The parties have lived separate and apart under a decree of separation, which has expired, and there has not been a reconciliation.
  1. The parties have lived separate and apart for two years or more under a decree of separate maintenance, with no reconciliation taking place in that time period.
  1. The spouses have lived continuously separately for at least two years immediately before filing, there’s no anticipation of them resuming cohabitation, and divorce would be appropriate. 

Division of Property in Hawaii Divorces

Dividing marital assets and debts is a key aspect of divorce proceedings. In Hawaii, courts use an equitable distribution principle. This means that the determination of what’s fair and equitable may not always mean an even split. Although most often the division tends to be equal, courts will consider various factors such as each spouse’s economic circumstances, contributions made during the marriage (both financial and non-financial), and future needs – among others – to arrive at a division deemed equitable.

Alimony Considerations in Hawaii Divorces

When it comes to alimony, judges in Hawaii have several options at their disposal depending on the circumstances of the marriage and each spouse’s needs. This financial assistance is not guaranteed, but assessed on a case-to-case basis.

Temporary support can be awarded to help a lower-earning spouse cover immediate living expenses throughout the duration of divorce proceedings and even to help with attorney fees. Once the divorce is finalized, these typically cease and focus shifts towards longer-term arrangements if required – which often means short-term transitional support that helps the spouse become self-sufficient.

On some occasions – though significantly less commonly – longer-term alimony might be awarded in situations where one spouse is unable to enter the workforce due to advanced age or a disability. The court will consider several factors when determining how to calculate alimony, including how long the marriage lasted, the financial needs of each spouse and their ability to pay, standard of living established during the marriage, custody and childcare arrangements, and employability of each party.

If couples want to assert some control over the terms and conditions of spousal support, it’s possible for them to reach an agreement outside of court on this matter. Couples can negotiate factors such as the type, amount, and duration of support payments. 

Child Custody Considerations in Hawaii

Parents are permitted to reach their own agreement outside of court regarding custody matters as long as the judge approves. If an agreement on child custody is not possible, a family court judge is tasked with deciding the matter. The ruling they deliver will be based on what is in “the best interests of the child.”

Judges take into account multiple factors, including each parent’s existing relationship with their children, the stability they can provide, and their ability to meet the child’s emotional and physical needs, for example. 

Family courts in Hawaii generally favor rulings where legal and physical custody is shared between parents.

Going through a divorce can be complicated and emotionally overwhelming, but familiarizing yourself with Hawaii’s divorce laws and the necessary steps involved in the process provides clarity and helps involved parties make informed decisions. Whether you need full legal representation or opt for unbundled services to handle specific aspects of your case, legal support tailored to meet your needs is available and often key to guiding you through this transition.

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