Your Complete Guide To Getting a Divorce in Hawaii

What We Cover In This Article

Divorce Laws | Residency Requirements | Grounds for Divorce | Divorce Attorney | Filing for Divorce | Online Divorce | How Long? | Divorce Costs | Custody | Child Support | Alimony | Division of Asset | Common-Law Marriage | Alternatives


Divorce is a serious matter that affects not just your life but the lives of every member of your family. It’s also much more challenging when you don’t know what to expect.

In this guide, you’ll learn about the laws regarding divorce in Hawaii, what to expect if you hire an attorney (or don't hire one) including considerations on things like custody, splitting assets, and some alternative options for you to consider.

Types of Divorce Laws in Hawaii

While most people think of divorce as splitting from a married partner, the truth is that it’s a specific legal process that needs to be followed and each state has their own divorce process and laws.

If you don’t follow the laws exactly, the state won’t recognize your divorce. This can have an impact on your current assets and if you later acquire additional assets or have other significant changes in your life.

Hawaii allows both contested and uncontested divorces, with specific rules for each. The primary laws indicating when divorce is allowed are covered in Hawaii’s Revised Statutes, Section 580, which also address elements like court decrees, grounds for annulment, and property rights.

For now, the thing to remember is that while several situations allow divorce, the exact process varies based on how the parties enter it.

Contested Divorce

A contested divorce is when the two spouses in a marriage cannot agree on all matters. This is an important distinction: a divorce is contested even if the disagreement is a minor one, such as who gets a particular item in your home.

Courts don’t like minor things making a divorce contested and may urge people to resolve it and make it uncontested instead.

Otherwise, a contested divorce can range to disagreement on any number of issues, up to and including whether to divorce at all. Unsurprisingly, contested divorces typically take much longer to resolve and may involve a significant amount of mediation, discussions with lawyers, or other negotiating.

While minor issues can result in a contested divorce, this usually happens when there are disagreements on substantial concerns. Disputes over child custody plans are especially likely to trigger a contested divorce, but things like real estate ownership can also come into the picture.

A typical contested divorce involves preparing and delivering paperwork, responding to petitions, working with an attorney, going through a discovery process to gather information, participating in hearings, and going through settlement proposals. If all of this fails, the issue usually goes to court, where a judge will make the final decision.

It is possible to appeal a judge’s decisions, but appeals courts usually reject divorce appeals unless you can demonstrate that the regular court made a mistake, the ex-spouse lied about something or new information has come up that you couldn’t have found out earlier.

Pros & Cons

  • You can fight for what you feel you deserve
  • If you and your spouse can not get along, this will help move through the process with 3rd parties
  • You may have to go to trial
  • These types of divorce tend to take much longer
  • It's more expensive than uncontested or simplified divorces
  • Typically more stressful

Trials for Contested Divorces

Trials for contested divorces function similarly to many criminal trials, although it’s unlikely that either party will end up going to jail or even getting punished by the court unless there’s a significant problem during the trial itself.

After a discovery phase in which partners can gather information and build a case, the trial starts, and each side can present witnesses and evidence to argue their case. Divorce trials often focus on the areas of dispute, so they won’t necessarily settle every detail of the separation.

Once a side presents their witnesses, the other team can cross-examine them and look for problems or inconsistencies. Afterward, the attorneys can make closing arguments. Many trials don’t end with immediate judgments from the court. The more likely result is that the judge will think it over, review the law, and then eventually issue their final decrees.

Settlement Proposals

Settlement proposals are suggested ways of turning a contested divorce into an uncontested one. These are often written and drafted by attorneys representing each side, who can review the proposal and make professional recommendations about whether they’re fair or not. However, only the spouses can decide whether to accept or reject a proposal.

It’s common for parties to have several rounds of going back-and-forth on proposals, indicating which terms they like and dislike, then proposing alternatives. Note that whatever each party proposes must otherwise conform to Hawaii’s laws, so you don’t have total freedom to make or reject any proposal. Attorneys can tell you if a particular offer is contrary to state law.

Settlement negotiations can take days, weeks, or even months. Most judges will allow things to continue as long as parties are making progress and will encourage both sides to find a mutually acceptable resolution to their differences.

However, judges may also cut things off if there’s a time-sensitive issue like meeting the needs of a child.

Despite the urgings of courts, settlement discussions can end poorly when one or both partners outright refuse to compromise on something. Such failure is when things proceed to trials.

Uncontested Divorce

Uncontested divorces are usually much faster and easier to get through than a contested divorce. In these situations, both spouses agree on the terms of separation and issues such as child custody, so negotiations, settlements, and trials are unnecessary.

However, this does not mean that a couple can set any terms they like for a divorce and that the judge must uncritically accept this. Broadly, there are three situations where a judge might reject an uncontested divorce.

The first is a procedural failure, which means something hasn’t happened correctly during the process. One of a divorce lawyer’s main jobs is avoiding this, so it’s rare for this to happen if you have an attorney. Procedural failures come up more often when people try to do things themselves and end up not submitting all the correct paperwork on time.

The second case where an uncontested divorce can be contested is when something is unclear about the arrangement. Courts always prefer clarity in agreements. For example, if the agreement says that each partner will have the children for half the year, the court may insist on specifying which half and how to change it later.

In most cases, solving this and proceeding with the divorce is as easy as considering the judge’s questions, clarifying the answers, and resubmitting the paperwork. You could do this in a few minutes for minor issues, but larger clarifications could require more delays as the court reviews things.

Finally, a judge may intervene if the agreement is not in the best interests of children. If one parent is known to be violent and abusive but is allowed full custody under the terms of a divorce, the judge could decide that’s unacceptable.

Denials outside of these three causes are unusual in Hawaii. A judge can deny things on other grounds, but they rarely have reason to reject agreements.

Pros & Cons

  • Uncontested divorces save you time and money
  • Drama free way to end the marriage
  • These divorces tend to process quicker
  • You can avoid taking the divorce to trial
  • Requires the ability to navigate the divorce process
  • If domestic violence is involved, a contested divorce is safer
  • Neither spouse can demand additional spousal support or child support unless the other agrees.
  • Both spouses give up the right to appeal the terms of the divorce in the future.
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Mediation is different from settlement negotiations, so make sure you don’t confuse the two.

This process focuses on helping spouses find common ground and resolve differences. It’s also a voluntary process, though a judge may strongly urge that parties participate in it before heading into a more aggressive situation like settlement negotiation processes.

While the details of mediation vary depending on the mediator in question, most follow a similar outline.

After agreeing to mediation, participants need to find a mediator and decide how to do meetings. Many people either don’t want to or literally cannot meet in person, so mediators may offer online video calls instead of demanding everyone show up to an office.

Once the mediation starts, the mediator will explain things to participants, settle any payment issues, and explain the overall procedures for the day. The guidelines help ensure that each participant has an opportunity to present their views fairly.

After things start, it’s time to present information relevant to the topics you're discussing. Most people use mediation to settle things like division of property, alimony arrangements, child support plans, and child custody plans. The mediator may ask you to bring relevant paperwork, such as bank statements or a child’s daily schedule.

Things may not resolve right away. For example, if something comes up where you need to consult an expert, that can go on a list of things to do before the next session.

At this point, mediators will usually explain any relevant laws and how a judge is likely to decide things if the matter ends up going to trial. Most people spend at least two sessions in this introductory stage.

The next part of mediation is framing the issues, which includes each party stating the outcomes they want, why they want those things, and individual elements like priorities and concerns. Once these are complete, the goal is to compare them and look for areas of common ground. This helps explain which areas need discussion and which you can settle immediately.

After finding common ground, mediation focuses on negotiating the remaining details. Coming to an agreement almost always involves some level of give-and-take, so you shouldn’t expect to get everything you want. The mediator’s job is to try and address each party’s needs and desires, so finding acceptable trades is strongly preferable.

Assuming the mediation works and people can agree on things, the mediator will work with a lawyer and create a settlement agreement. Signing this agreement won’t finalize the separation, but it does provide the framework for an uncontested divorce.

Key Takeaways
Hawaii allows both contested and uncontested divorces. Each of these has separate procedures, but they usually involve several rounds or sessions of negotiating to find mutually acceptable solutions and allow for an uncontested divorce. If this fails, that’s when things can proceed to trial and a judge will settle any lingering issues.

Residency Requirements in Hawaii

Hawaii has two main residency requirements for anyone seeking a divorce. However, realistically, these aren’t as burdensome as they may look at first.

The first requirement is that either party must live in Hawaii for at least six continuous months. This does not mean you can’t leave Hawaii for a short vacation before your divorce, but it needs to be someone’s primary and active residence for at least half a year. This is the harder of the two requirements to meet if you’re looking for a quick divorce.

The second requirement is whoever files for divorce must have lived in Hawaii for at least three months preceding the filing. The second requirement is easier to meet, but it means you can’t move to Hawaii and then immediately file for divorce just because your partner has already lived there.

However, it does mean that if one person lives in Hawaii for half a year and the other moves in, that spouse can file for divorce as soon as the other arrives. Hawaii allows divorce even if you were married elsewhere.

Things get a little more complicated if spouses live in different states. For example, if both spouses file for divorce while living in different states, the state where the filing happened first usually gets priority. This isn’t universal, though. If one court can decide things that the other can’t, and this is relevant, that can change the selection of courts.

Otherwise, as long as you meet all legal requirements for the separation, every state is obligated to recognize divorces. In short, while living in different areas can complicate a divorce, it usually doesn’t stop it.

Key Takeaways
One party needs to live in Hawaii for six months before the divorce, and the person who’s filing needs to live there for at least three months. It’s possible to start divorce proceedings earlier than this and negotiate while waiting to meet residency requirements. You can typically divorce in Hawaii even if your spouse lives somewhere else.

Grounds for Divorce in Hawaii

Hawaii is a no-fault divorce state, which is a critical legal distinction when you’re seeking to separate from a partner.

At Fault vs. No-Fault

At-fault divorces require one member of the party to provide proof that their partner has done something considered grounds for divorce in that state. The exact requirements vary by state but typically include abuse (domestic or substance) and adultery as allowable reasons.

However, Hawaii is a true No-Fault state, which means people do not need to prove their partner committed any particular wrong. Instead, all they need to do is assert that the marriage is broken, and the court will accept this at face value.

Acceptable Grounds For Divorce

As explained in Section 580-41, Hawaii has four grounds for divorce. People only need to meet one of these to qualify for a divorce as long as they meet the residency requirements described above. All of these assume any rules and regulations are done by courts of competent jurisdiction (i.e., they have the authority to impose such rules).

The first ground for divorce is asserting that the marriage is irretrievably broken. 

Since Hawaii is a no-fault state, neither party must justify or explain this assertion. Instead, they only need to make it. This is easily the most common ground people give the court when asking for a divorce in Hawaii since it’s faster and easier than the other options.

The second ground for divorce is each party has lived under a decree of separation from bed and board, and the term has expired with no reconciliation

This decree of separation is also known as “legal separation”, where partners are separated financially but still legally married. 

Courts can impose this decree for several reasons, but it’s most common when people want to see if they can resolve their problems if given a little time and space. These decrees can last for up to two years in Hawaii, although the state will honor longer terms if imposed in a court where that’s allowed.

Notably, couples cannot file for additional matrimonial actions while this order is in force. Further, they cannot share a bed or a roof.

  • The third ground for divorce in Hawaii is living apart for at least two years under a decree of separate maintenance, which is similar to the second ground except partners aren’t as split financially.
  • Finally, the last grounds for divorce is the couple has lived apart for at least two years, and there’s no likelihood that cohabitation will resume. This has the additional requirement that the divorce would not be oppressive to the other spouse or contrary to public interests.
Key Takeaways
Getting a divorce in Hawaii is easier if you have no existing matrimonial orders like a decree of separation. If you have one of those decrees, you may need to wait until it expires before you can divorce.

Using a Hawaii Divorce Attorney

You do not have to use an attorney if you decide to get a divorce in Hawaii.

The state even has video sessions where attorneys will explain the law and much of what people need to know about it in Hawaii. However, many people prefer using attorneys to help resolve disputes and avoid errors in paperwork.

Attorneys are more helpful in contested divorces, where each partner may want separate legal representation to provide advice and help in negotiations.

Read More: Divorce advice for men or Divorce advice for women

What Makes a Good Divorce Attorney

An ideal divorce attorney is someone who is familiar with family law and divorce proceedings in Hawaii and has experience negotiating for acceptable terms in contested scenarios. Divorces are mainly procedural in Hawaii, so negotiation skills are what help attorneys specializing in this area stand out from each other.

Note that your goal with an attorney shouldn’t be to “win” everything you want. While some people approach divorce proceedings with that in mind, judges could reject a settlement that’s too unfair to one party even if both sides agreed to it. A divorce attorney who can negotiate fair and appropriate terms is much better overall.

For example, if you are divorcing a narcissist, they will know how to deal with them so that you won't be taken advantage of them anymore.

How to Find a Good Divorce Attorney

There are many ways to find an excellent divorce attorney. You can ask people you know for recommendations, look for reviews online, or seek a referral from an attorney you know in a different field. 

Interview Questions for Divorce Attorneys

Here are some crucial questions to ask divorce attorneys when you’re thinking about hiring them.

What areas of law do you work in?

An excellent divorce attorney specializes in divorce, or at least family law as a whole. Attorneys who spread into too many areas may not have the expertise in divorce law that you’re looking for.

What physical areas do you cover?

Many attorneys in Hawaii cover at least an entire island, and probably the whole state. Hawaii is small enough that this is practical for them. However, it’s still important to ensure that they work in the area your court covers.

How much experience do you have with divorce cases?

As a general rule, more experience is always better when you’re dealing with divorce cases. Nobody wants to be a lawyer’s first client ever, so most attorneys get experience with other agencies before moving to independent work.

What are your qualifications?

Additional licenses can indicate lawyers who specialize enough to get more recognition in their field. Make sure to research each license they mention to be sure it’s genuinely valuable and not just a token to display.

How do you prefer to resolve cases?

This question can provide a lot of insight into a lawyer’s preferred style. Some are more aggressive and focus on getting great results, while others emphasize settlements and trying to get good arrangements. Make sure you hire a lawyer whose methods match what you’re hoping to accomplish.

What are your payment expectations?

Lawyers often have several payment options, depending on how they expect the case to go.

If you’re going for an uncontested divorce, lawyers often offer a flat rate for the entire thing. This is often contingent on not having additional trouble in the process, such as changing to a contested divorce, but it’s an up-front way to know the cost for simpler cases. Flat rates do not include things like court fees unless stated otherwise.

Some lawyers do not offer flat rates, and they are not mandatory. In other words, don’t dismiss a lawyer just because they don’t accept this payment model.

Lawyers working on contested cases usually request a retainer, which is an up-front payment for their services that they can withdraw as they work on your case. Retainers protect the attorney by ensuring they can get paid, but they’re also obligated to refund anything they don’t use and provide you with an explanation of their billing.

Retainers are not the entire payment for most divorce proceedings. You may need to pay several retainers throughout the process, but a good lawyer can tell you how many hours they usually end up spending and what this means in terms of their fees.

What types of representation can you provide?

Some lawyers offer several different types of representation to clients. These can include options like consultation services where an attorney can provide legal advice and analyze documents without going as far as full representation.

These options can help you keep costs down, which is helpful if funds are a concern.

How will you communicate with me?

Communication is essential, especially if you can’t visit the lawyer’s office anytime you want. Some lawyers prefer to use phone calls, while others may use email or chat systems. Ideally, they’ll offer a way of communication that you prefer to use.

What is the likely result of my situation?

An experienced lawyer can provide a realistic assessment of how your case is likely to end, including the division of property, alimony, custody agreements, and similar things. This is an important question because it helps you know what to expect. Remember that a lawyer cannot guarantee a result in settlements or court, only tell you what they think is likely.

Is the Initial Consultation Free?

Most divorce attorneys in Hawaii offer free consultations. This isn’t required, as such, but it’s a common element of marketing and a way to help get people in the door. Initial consultations are usually 30-60 minutes and may involve either a phone call or an in-person meeting.

Always ask the attorney if the initial consultation is free or if you will be charged before scheduling your appointment.

Is the Meeting Confidential?

Yes. Divorce lawyers are bound by attorney-client privilege in your meetings with them, even if you haven’t hired them yet. 

Pros of using an attorney

There are several significant benefits to using an attorney when you’re seeking a divorce.

Arguably the biggest one is that it ensures you’re not alone. Divorce is often a stressful process, and feeling like you’re alone and have to decide everything yourself can be crippling. Having an expert acting on your behalf can significantly reduce the mental burden of divorce.

Attorneys can also help ensure fairer results. Experienced attorneys can spot unfair or inappropriate terms in settlement offers, or even make suggestions for mediated agreements. Competent attorneys will help you protect your rights and give you objective advice on what to compromise for the best results.

Finally, attorneys can often help you save money. A marriage that ends on bad terms for you can be extremely expensive, so the cost of hiring an attorney is minor in comparison.

Cons of Using An Attorney

Most people feel that using an attorney is better, but there are a few negatives to keep in mind.

First, if the hiring comes as a surprise to your spouse, they may believe that you’re trying to gain an advantage or that you won’t act fairly during the process. You may have to convince them of your intentions.

Second, attorneys can still be expensive, even if they ultimately end up saving you money. People who have relatively limited assets may not benefit as much, although this is rarer in Hawaii due to the high cost of living. Complicated divorces are the ones that tend to benefit the most from legal help.

Key Takeaways
Lawyers are not required in Hawaii, and the Government has several programs to help people who want to represent themselves. However, if you can find an attorney who matches you, it’s often faster and easier to hire them, and it might even be cheaper.

Filing for Divorce in Hawaii

Filing for divorce is the process of submitting forms and otherwise going through the legal process. Filing is separate and different from aspects like negotiations or trials and usually occurs early in the process.

Pro Tip: The information below is perfect for you to get an overview of the divorce filing process and also use as a guide if you will be filing for divorce on your own. However, if you are using an attorney, their team will typically be taking care of these steps as part of their proper representation of you as a client.

Preparing Your Divorce Forms

Hawaii has numerous divorce forms, with slight variations depending on which island you live on. It’s important to use your island’s paperwork, or the court may reject the documents until you submit them properly.

The forms you need to use vary based on details like whether or not you have children and whether it’s contested or uncontested. You may need to fill out more than a dozen forms, including things like financial information sheets, attending classes, and providing financial information.

Completing this paperwork is often much easier if you’re working with an attorney who can fill in many of them on your behalf and advise you on which forms to submit.

You may want to file additional forms at this time. For example, if one spouse is not a biological parent, they may want to request an adoption as part of the divorce to maintain some rights for the future.

Attorneys can provide advice on which forms are relevant to your situation. Do not make copies of your paperwork yet because you’ll do that later.

What We Recommend
3StepDivorce For Online Divorces In Hawaii

If you want assistance with preparing your divorce forms appropriately and instructions on how to file them correctly, using an online divorce service is a great idea to save a lot of money and hassle.

We reviewed, rated, and ranked the best online divorce services available and our #1 choice is 3StepDivorce.

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Filing Your Divorce Forms

Filing divorce forms is the process of providing all of the initial documents to the court for your divorce. You don’t need to fill in every form when initially filing them, as some only need to be filed later in the process.

However, this is particularly important because filing forms is how you legally begin the process of divorce. You can fill out any amount of paperwork, but until you submit them to the court, nothing has happened.

In most cases, you need to file documents directly at the courthouse. If you're using an attorney, they usually take care of this for you. In most cases, you’ll need to pay a fee when you file things, although you can request that the court waive the payment if you can’t afford it.

Once the clerk accepts your documents, they’ll put a date and time on your papers. They’ll also give you a file number for your case. Make sure you save this number because you’ll need to put it on all future documents.

Make sure you get two copies of each document after the clerk stamps them. One copy is for your records, while the other is for your spouse.

Serving Your Spouse

Serving your spouse is another essential part of the divorce process, and you should do this as soon as possible. Serving your spouse with documents means delivering copies of the summons, the complaint, and all other documents you filed with them. Unlike some states, Hawaii requires that you serve copies stamped with your specific file number.

How this happens varies slightly, based on the form your divorce is taking.

If you’re having an uncontested divorce, the spouse who isn’t filing should sign an Appearance and Waiver document (non-kids version here) which essentially indicates that the spouse is not contesting anything and the court should treat the case accordingly.

If you don’t want to serve your spouse personally, you can hire a private service to do this for you. Some people get dedicated companies to serve papers, but anyone who’s a legal adult and not part of the case can do this.

Hawaii also allows for service by mail, although you must use registered or certified mail for this and get a signature acknowledging receipt. These signatures are filed with the court.

You may need to go through a somewhat different process if you need to serve a spouse who is in the military, in jail, or difficult to locate. You can get more information on the current regulations by talking to the court clerk.

What if I Can’t Find My Spouse?

Sometimes, it can be hard to find your spouse. They might be in hiding to try and avoid a divorce, or they could have another reason for being difficult to locate. Fortunately, there is a process for this.

Generally, you must explain to the court how you attempted to find your spouse, including what information you have on their last known location. Serving a spouse you can’t find typically involves publishing notifications in local newspapers, using any known email addresses, and sometimes hiring someone to investigate their location on your behalf.

How much work you have to do may vary slightly between cases, but Hawaii’s courts typically expect you to make every reasonable effort to find your spouse and deliver papers. If you make that effort and still can’t find them after a reasonable period, you can proceed with the case.

Why Responses Matter

Courts usually give time for spouses to respond to a summons and contact the court, and they must do so. If a spouse refuses to appear before the court, the court usually enters a default judgment where the person who filed gets everything they ask for. This can have a huge impact on the final result of the divorce.

Financial Disclosures

Financial disclosures are a critical part of divorces in Hawaii. Existing law requires an equitable division of property, which means fair but not necessarily equal. Typically, spouses can keep things they owned before the marriage, then everything else gets split along lines determined to be fair in that particular case.

Note that divorce orders only affect the relationship between spouses. It does not apply to many other bills and responsibilities, such as loans or debts taken out jointly. You may still be legally responsible for these even if your spouse refuses to pay.

Generally, you should try to divide these as part of the divorce, then contact creditors and explain the situation. You should also let them know that you are not responsible for any new debts your ex-spouse may incur.

Key Takeaways
The legal process of filing for divorce in Hawaii generally involves completing paperwork, submitting it to the court, serving the non-filing spouse with copies of the paperwork, and ensuring the court has all proper financial disclosures. Problems with any of these steps can delay the divorce.

Online Divorce in Hawaii

Online divorce is possible in Hawaii but a little more complicated than it can appear at first. Here’s what you should know about going this route for divorce in Hawaii.

How to Qualify for an Online Divorce in Hawaii

Technically, you qualify for online divorce in Hawaii as long as you meet the residency requirements and are currently married.

The main thing to know about these services is that they only work for people who are pursuing an uncontested divorce. If so, using an online divorce service for guidance in filling out forms can be an effective way of completing the divorce and saving money. Most of these services have flat rates and some can provide support for complex questions if needed.

Getting an online divorce is not possible if you plan to pursue a contested divorce. So, if there are any disputes during the divorce process, online divorce will not work in Hawaii.

Best Online Divorce Services
We reviewed, rated and ranked the 10 best online divorce services available for you to choose from. If you want to see which website will work best for you to end your divorce, we highly recommend you check out this valuable information. Check out the 10 BEST online divorce services here >>

Do You Still Need to Go to Court?

Unfortunately, yes. Hawaii does not have true online divorce for self-representing parties. While they do allow e-filing of documents, only attorneys, law firms, and individuals who have certain types of active cases can register for this service. Regular couples intending to split are trying to start a case, so they do not qualify for electronic filing services.

The easiest way around this is by hiring an attorney to file the documents for you. Many attorneys are willing to file documents with the court for a nominal fee (often their rate plus filing costs), so you can mail them the documents.

There is another reason to avoid e-filing. Part of Hawaii’s process for divorce involves stamping your documents, then making copies of the stamped originals. It’s much easier to do this in person at the court, so even attorneys will usually file things in-person unless they have a compelling reason not to.

If the case is disputed and proceeds to trial, the court may accept a video call instead of an in-person appearance.

Key Takeaways
Online divorce is a practical and effective option for uncontested divorces, though you probably won’t be able to complete it entirely online. It’s harder for contested divorces, but with some creativity and compromise, you may be able to minimize how many in-person meetings you have to attend. We recommend 3StepDivorce learn more >>

How Long Does It Take To Get a Divorce in Hawaii

The time it takes to get a divorce in Hawaii depends on many factors, including whether it’s contested or uncontested, how many assets the couple has, and whether there needs to be mediation or bargaining.

Here are some common factors that will determine how long your divorce will take:

  • Court Activities: The court itself usually takes four to twelve weeks to process the finalized paperwork and agreements once they’re submitted. This is when a divorce becomes legally final, and the new ex-spouses can legally remarry.
  • Serving Your Spouse: In ideal circumstances, serving your spouse with divorce papers will be done the same day you file them with the court. However, some people can seek to delay this by avoiding contact. This could require two or three months to resolve, though, after enough failure, judges will usually move things forward.
  • Negotiations: Negotiations, including both mediation and settlement bargaining, usually take at least a few days. Negotiations only happen when people already disagree on things, so instant cooperation is rare. For complex divorces, this could extend into weeks or even months as long as both sides are making progress.
  • Discovery: Discovery is the process of collecting information before a trial to try and convince the judge to rule a particular way. This can also take weeks as people need time to get discovery orders, gather the appropriate paperwork, and submit it.
  • Rest: Focusing entirely on divorce for weeks or months is extraordinarily stressful, so many people choose to take regular rest days during the process. This can add as much as a few weeks to the overall process.
  • Unforeseen Circumstances: Unexpected events in life can affect how long it takes to get a divorce. For example, if one spouse is hospitalized for several weeks, they can’t participate in the process.
  • Children: Merely having children can complicate a divorce case. Some couples intentionally slow things down to try and finish the divorce at a time that’s better for the children, such as over the summer when they’re out of school. Courts may even insist on this.
  • Complexity: A divorce case involving multi-millionaires with numerous holdings is quite different from a couple with few assets to their name. Divorce cases typically take longer when assets are more complex.
  • Prenups: Hawaii recognizes prenuptial agreements as long as they’re made under local regulations. These can simplify things and cut down on a lot of negotiating, although they cannot cover things like child visitation, child support, or personal requirements and expectations.
  • Separation Orders: Separation orders for couples usually don’t allow divorces while they’re in force. This can add up to two years to the timetable, although it’s possible to work on divorce paperwork and similar details while under this order.
  • Judicial Intervention: Judges have a relatively broad ability to intervene in divorce cases, especially if they’re doing so in the best interests of a child. This can result in unexpected setbacks, such as the need to renegotiate things that a couple believed were settled.
  • Third Parties: Third parties can include people who have a vested interest in the case, such as a previous spouse who wants visitation rights to their biological children or subject matter experts that one spouse wants to provide testimony at trial.

Realistically, a divorce case can take up to a year and a half in Hawaii, although most are considerably shorter. Three to six months is more common for couples who are in agreement on the split, and this timetable includes work done before filing with the court.

As you can see, there are too many factors that go into a divorce case to give an accurate estimate that most people can feel comfortable with. The difference between six months and eighteen months is significant for most people, especially because it’s hard to move on with your life until you’re completely done with the split.

The best way to figure out how long a divorce is likely to take in your situation is to talk to a qualified attorney. Attorneys can look at factors like your current relationship, your assets, and the needs of your children, then provide a better estimate.

Judges will often push things forward if it seems like parties won’t be able to agree. They try to give everyone involved a fair and reasonable amount of time to respond but won’t allow anyone to deliberately hold back the proceedings for too long.

Key Takeaways
The length of a divorce case varies based on many factors. Expect a minimum of three months between filling out paperwork and waiting for the court to finalize things, and possibly over a year for complex cases.

Divorce Costs in Hawaii

The costs for divorce in Hawaii also vary. It’s possible to separate for just a few hundred dollars if both parties agree on everything and can manage an uncontested divorce without getting a lawyer involved.

Your costs can rise to over $20,000 or more for complex cases. Generally, the more a couple disagrees on terms, the more expensive it’s going to be.

Court Fees

Court fees are among the most common costs when filing for a divorce, although it’s possible to get a waiver if you can’t afford them.

  • Court Filing Fee: About $200. This varies slightly by area, although it rarely exceeds $250 no matter where you go. This is for the primary filing of your divorce papers and you usually don’t need to pay it again if you have to submit more information to the court.
  • Notary Fees: About $5. Paperwork may require a notary’s services to make it legally binding, and the people who provide these services usually get a small payment to cover the cost of getting licenses for this service.
  • Paperwork Copies: About $2 per page, although this can vary. You need to get copies of most of your paperwork so you can serve your spouse. Many people need to copy several dozen pages.
  • Paperwork Service: Up to $200. If you want to hire someone to serve your spouse with paperwork, be ready to pay a fee. If you need to hire a detective to locate your spouse first, expect this to go up.

Attorney Fees

Attorney fees vary somewhat. Some will offer a flat rate for divorce services, but most charge $200/hour or more for proper representation. You’ll need to rely on their services for quite a few hours if you need to go into negotiations or a trial.

You can reduce these fees by minimizing your use of an attorney’s services. For example, you can consult with them on the occasional question or ask them to file paperwork on your behalf but not go to the level of representing you in negotiations. 

A lawyer typically asks for a retainer of about ten hours worth of work up-front, which means $2000 to $5000. They may be willing to accept smaller retainers for simple cases that they don’t expect to work as hard on.

If costs are too high, lawyers may provide pro bono (free) representation. Most attorneys have some guidelines for this, such as requiring a referral from a trusted nonprofit, but you’re not out of luck just because you’re out of money. Local nonprofit organizations can help you determine whether you qualify for pro bono help.

Litigation Costs

Litigation in a divorce case can be extremely expensive. It’s not too expensive if the judge only needs to decide a few simple matters, but things like restraining orders and third-party evaluations can add entire digits to the cost of the divorce. Cases with abuse allegations are particularly expensive, regularly adding more than $50,000 to the final fees.

As a general rule, courts try to avoid taking things to litigation unless there’s evidence of serious wrongdoing. Judges prefer to encourage spouses to attend mediation and resolve differences there, or negotiate and find a settlement. Courts also have a limited amount of time to spend on cases, so they don’t like the delays that trials cause.

Mediation (reduce costs)

Mediation is usually more affordable than a disputed process that needs to go to trial. While costs vary slightly by area, most charge around $50 per session and can waive that in cases of financial hardship.

Spouses that are going through settlement negotiations with attorneys have to pay both of them, effectively doubling their costs. When all of this is settled and done, one multi-hour mediation session often costs about 10% as much as one hour of the lawyer's time.

Remember that mediation is not there to decide who is right or wrong, but to help all parties involved come to an agreement they can accept. Mediation is a paid service, but it’s far cheaper than going all the way to trial.

Online Divorce Service

Online divorce services can help you handle and process paperwork. These are most common for uncontested divorces, where they charge about $400 on average. Online divorce services aren’t possible for contested divorces.

Key Takeaways
Divorce costs in Hawaii vary depending on the length and complexity of the case. Generally, couples who are in agreement can separate for less than $1000, but every disagreement requiring resolution takes time and money. Mediation is more affordable than aggressive negotiations between lawyers, so courts often encourage trying that.
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Custody Considerations in Hawaii

Custody is the legal process for taking care of children. Most couples split custody depending on their situations and how practical it is to do so, but if someone is moving out of state, determining custody can get much more complicated.

Strictly speaking, there are two types of custody in Hawaii. Most people focus on physical custody, which is essentially the ability to live in the same household. Couples often get similar, but not equal, time for physical custody of children.

The other type of custody is legal custody, which is a parent’s right to make major decisions on the child’s behalf. Legal custody covers things like education, medical, and some religious choices. Judges typically split legal custody so both parents can have a say, but if there’s too much disagreement, they may limit legal custody to one parent.

The primary metric judges use when deciding whether to accept a custody arrangement is whether they believe it’s in the child’s best interests. Here are some of the factors that judges consider:

  • Parental History of Abuse: Unsurprisingly, judges prefer to place children with parents who don’t have a history of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. A record here can be near-instantly disqualifying.
  • History of Caregiving: Judges may consider how much a parent has contributed to raising the child in the past.
  • Ability to Meet Needs: Most judges prefer to leave children with parents that are capable of meeting a child’s needs, especially for food, shelter, and overall safety. Hawaii is expensive, and it can be difficult to own or even rent property alone, so this often takes more analysis than some other areas.
  • The Child’s Health: Some children are sick or have a challenging time moving from place to place. For example, a child with an immunodeficiency may not be able to leave their room and travel to another home regularly. Health issues can be a decisive factor and override almost every other consideration.
  • The Desire for Custody: Some parents want custody, while others don’t. Judges usually lean in favor of parents who want to be with the child, but this isn’t a guarantee if that parent’s situation isn’t ideal for the child.
  • The Child’s Wishes: Judges often consider the wishes of children who are old enough to speak on their behalf. Children's wishes usually aren't decisive on their own, but if a child prefers one parent over the other, that parent will often get more time with them.

Read More: Understanding The Psychological Effects of Divorce on Children

Focusing on the best interests of the child is a legal expectation in Hawaii, detailed in Title 31, Section 571-46 of the state’s revised statutes. Among other things, the court can even award custody to people besides the parents if they think it’s necessary for a stable home.

Courts can also investigate matters if they have good cause to do so. This can be an expensive process, but courts will often use it if there are allegations of abuse. They prefer using normal child custody evaluators but can appoint anyone who is both willing and competent if the need arises.

Key Takeaways
Courts determine custody based on the best needs of the child. This takes priority over other considerations, but they do try to evaluate any other relevant factors, including family connections.

Child Support Considerations in Hawaii

Like most states, Hawaii has a series of considerations for child support payments. Hawaii is an expensive state, so most households are dual-income and have parents with full-time jobs. If custody is split and parents have similar income, this means that child support payments can be unexpectedly low compared to what you could see in other states.

Here are some of the primary considerations for child support in Hawaii:

  • Custodial Arrangements: Child support usually goes from the parent who spends less time with the children to the one who spends more time with them. Payments tend to be lower if custody is 50/50 or at least very close to even, while they tend to be more significant if one parent spends far more time caring for the children.
  • Income: Hawaii uses an income chart to determine most child support payments, as modified by factors like the cost of daycare and health insurance. This chart helps reduce the impact of subjectivity on child support and provides a clearer understanding of what divorced couples should expect.
  • Activities: Certain activities can exempt someone from paying child support, at least temporarily. For example, if a parent is attending job training to increase their income and ability to pay, they might not be responsible for paying additional child support with the earnings they get during their training.
  • Fairness: Courts must consider the fairness of child support payments based on individual circumstances. What determines fairness varies, but generally, being low-income or having special physical or medical needs can influence child support payments or even eliminate them outright.
  • Circumstances: Courts are usually willing to adjust child support payments based on a change in circumstances. For example, if a non-custodial parent becomes the custodial parent and takes care of the kids more often, chances are they’ll no longer have to pay child support. Instead, the other parent will need to start paying.

Courts may also consider anything else that’s relevant. For example, if one parent is already raising one or more other children, they may need more support than someone who isn’t raising children and has fewer expenditures.

In short, child support is often decided on an individual basis. Courts can be notably aggressive about ensuring child support gets paid on time, up to and including garnishing wages before they even reach a parent who’s not paying on time. 

Depending on the situation, the courts may also put a lien on the property to make it difficult to sell. Liens are usually only done when someone isn’t paying their child support, as it gives priority for repayment that’s extremely difficult to get away from when someone wants to sell that real estate.

Most issues with child support payments go through Hawaii’s Child Support Enforcement Agency, which manages appointments and payment options, provides information, and coordinates with employers.

Child support payments usually stop when a child is 18 but can continue until they’re 23 if the child is going to certain types of schools.

Key Takeaways
Child support payments are common in Hawaii, though the exact amount you’ll need to pay reflects your household’s unique situation. Payments are generally lower when former spouses have similar incomes and custody, but higher if there’s a significant income difference or heavily split custody.

Alimony Considerations in Hawaii

Alimony is relatively rare in Hawaii, usually applied in less than 10% of all divorce cases. The reason for this is mostly practical: Hawaii has an unusually high percentage of dual-income households because it’s so expensive to live there, and the courts rarely provide alimony to spouses fully capable of supporting themselves without another reason to.

In other words, it’s not that the rules are different in Hawaii, but rather the nature of relationships within the state affects how often things occur. When it does happen, there are a few things the court considers, as required by Section 580-47 of local law. These include:

  • Financial Resources: A spouse’s ability to pay at all is the first consideration. Generally, alimony is more likely if someone has a lot of extra income and less likely if they’re earning a little more than they pay each month.
  • The Ability of Seekers to Meet Their Needs: The court also considers whether the person asking for alimony can meet their needs independently. If they can, alimony is rare. If they need support so they have time to become independent, alimony is far more likely.
  • Duration of Marriage: Longer marriages are more likely to qualify for alimony payments compared to, say, a six-month marriage. Judges in Hawaii often award one year of alimony for every three years of marriage, but this is not a firm rule.
  • Standard of Living: Courts generally try to maintain the standard of living established in a relationship. This is because people who are used to one lifestyle may struggle significantly if suddenly thrown into an entirely different situation.
  • Age: Age is also a factor in alimony. A 70-year-old woman, for example, may have little realistic hope of finding a good job and working to support herself independently.
  • Physical and Emotional Condition: Alimony is less likely for people who are physically and mentally capable, but more likely for people who are unable to work regularly.
  • Normal Occupation: Courts consider the occupation of each participant. Most couples in Hawaii have both members working, which is a major indicator against awarding alimony.
  • Needs of the Parties: This is somewhat nebulous and varies from case to case. For example, a spouse may say that they need three months to finalize their new living arrangements and ask for alimony to cover that period.
  • Child Support: Child support is separate from alimony. Generally, someone who has significantly more custody of the children and is working is more likely to get alimony to help ease their situation.
  • The Ability of Payer to Meet Needs: This is separate from considering the financial resources, although the two are related. Essentially, the court wants to ensure that the party paying alimony is not unfairly burdened, and especially not to the point they can’t meet their own needs.
  • Other Factors: This consideration examines individual factors that affect how each party will end up after alimony gets paid. 
  • Probable Duration: People can request specific durations for alimony, including permanent support. Note that alimony usually terminates automatically when the person receiving it remarries, which is relatively common in Hawaii.
Key Takeaways
Alimony can occur in Hawaii, but it’s rarer than in other states because of local economic factors. By law, courts must consider more than a dozen factors when deciding whether to award alimony, but they also have generally broad authority to set the terms.

Division of Assets

Division of assets is relatively complex in Hawaii, especially if the courts need to get involved.

Spouses can divide property as they wish if they agree with it. This division can happen during mediation or settlement agreements. Premarital agreements are binding as long as they were made legally, and this can further clarify who should receive which assets.

Otherwise, courts usually return any premarital items to their original owners, then divide marital property (things acquired and managed jointly during the marriage) equitably between participants. This requirement is an important distinction from other states. Equitable means the division must be fair, but it does not mean that the division must be equal.

Note that judges often have the discretion to intervene if they think an existing agreement is unfair. They may not use this authority often, but it’s a compelling reason to avoid overly biased agreements.

Real Estate

Courts in Hawaii often direct spouses to sell real estate and split the proceeds instead of figuring out who should own what, or how a partner could buy out the other’s partial ownership to continue living there. This is mostly a matter of practicality in the state: the courts have a lot of cases to get through and don’t want to spend time managing real estate.

As such, if either partner wants to keep real estate from the marriage, it’s usually better to agree to this beforehand. That can stop the court from getting involved at all.

401k, IRA, Investments

Investments and retirement plans are generally treated as marital property in Hawaii, which means they’re subject to the equitable distribution clause of Hawaiian law. Courts have discretion in how to determine this, but often consider how much each partner contributed to the funds, as well as other circumstances.

For example, if one partner primarily paid rent and bills while the other paid into investments, a court would likely split the retirement funds evenly. However, if one partner contributed 60% to an investment and the other partner contributed 40%, a judge might split it along those lines instead.


Businesses are usually treated as marital property. Dividing a family-owned business usually requires a professional business valuation, although couples can negotiate a split that works better for them. For example, a couple may agree that one of them gets the real estate while the other gets the business.

Other Assets

Other assets can include things like bank accounts, annuities, income earned but not received at the time of divorce, household items, and essentially anything else that has value. All of these acquired during the marriage are subject to equitable division.

Key Takeaways
Dividing assets can be complicated in Hawaii, especially if there are complex investments or business entanglements. It helps to identify who owns what, as well as what’s owned jointly, to smooth the process of making an equitable division.

Common-Law Marriage Considerations in Hawaii

Hawaii does not have laws allowing common law marriage, which is a type of marriage performed without a ceremony or a marriage license. For that matter, most states don’t permit common-law marriages.

However, while you can’t enter a common law marriage in Hawaii, the state recognizes them as long as they were legal where you entered them. There’s also no problem with getting a divorce in Hawaii if you have a common-law marriage, assuming you meet the regular requirements for divorce within the state.

This applies even if you originally married outside of the United States. Such cases are more common in Hawaii than in some other areas, thanks to the state’s prominence as a tourist destination. However, you should check and make sure the country of original jurisdiction will recognize a divorce made in Hawaii.

International divorce is where things can get tricky. Few laws govern international recognition of divorce. Most countries will recognize divorces made in Hawaii and act accordingly as long as you submit the right paperwork to them. However, this is not guaranteed.

For example, let’s say that a spouse has a significant voting stake in a company with an important national security role in Japan. The Japanese government might object to someone they haven’t recognized (the shareholder’s spouse) suddenly having the ability to affect that business, and they could refuse to recognize the divorce unless this is addressed.

Key Takeaways
You can get a divorce from a common-law marriage while in Hawaii, or practically any other type of marriage as well. However, it’s important to be sure the place you got married will accept it, or you may have trouble.

Alternatives To Divorce in Hawaii

Here are some alternatives to divorce in Hawaii.

Hawaii recognizes legal separation, which we discussed earlier in this article. Legal separation has several forms, including partial separation (living separately, but sharing finances) or total separation (living separately, not sharing finances, but still married).

Legal separation can be an excellent way to get some time to yourself if you’re trying to find a way to make the marriage work. It can also be a good way of dealing with other issues, such as being able to separate while negotiating the terms for an upcoming divorce.

Hawaii limits legal separation to two years, which is different from most other states. If couples get all the way to the end, courts usually expect that you will reconcile or file for divorce at that point. In most cases, you can’t get divorced while the legal separation is in effect, but you can petition the judge to end the split and let divorce proceedings start.


Annulment in Hawaii is limited to civil agreements and does not affect any religious relationships. The main goal of an annulment is getting a decree of nullity, which is a court order formally declaring that the marriage is void. Annulment is quite rare in Hawaii, especially because its status as a no-fault state means you don’t need a reason to cancel a marriage.

Six primary situations qualify for an annulment:

  • Bigamy: Hawaii allows annulment if it turns out either spouse is married to someone else.
  • Concealed Disease: Annulment can occur if a spouse hid a loathsome disease, which is poorly defined but mostly understood to mean something that is either contagious or connected to socially repugnant conduct.
  • Fraud: Any form of fraud, duress, or coercion designed to pressure someone into marriage can lead to annulment. However, if a spouse chose to live with the fraudster anyway, that removes this grounds for annulment.
  • Incapable: Marriages can be annulled if either spouse lacked the mental ability to consent to marriage.
  • Incest: Couples qualify for annulment if they are related as ancestors or descendants of essentially any degree. This includes half-siblings, aunts/uncles with nephews/nieces, and so on.
  • Underage: People in Hawaii can marry as young as 15 with a court order, 16 with parental consent, or 18 without parental consent. A marriage can be annulled if either partner was too young, but if they reach 18 and continue living with their spouse, annulment is not allowed.

Work It Out Together

Couples may choose to try and work things out instead of divorcing. Whether this will work depends on more factors than we can describe here, but having a few serious discussions about how to resolve the issues that make one or both partners want a divorce can lead to reconciling.

This is only practical if the reasons for divorce are something that you can solve without outside intervention. Some people can accept activities like adultery from a spouse, while others don’t. Many people choose to try and work things out for external reasons, such as a desire to maintain a family for children or to keep membership in a religious organization.

Seek Counseling

Counseling is similar to working things out together, but with the benefit of guidance from a trained counselor who can help each partner determine the best course of action. The couple needs to choose the counselor together to ensure there’s no bias towards certain results.

Many groups and organizations offer counseling, including religious groups and nonprofit organizations. Judges may also suggest this before allowing couples to go through with a divorce, as they have a vested interest in having as few divorce cases as possible.

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Open Marriage

An open marriage is where the members are free to pursue relationships with other people, including sexual relationships. Being in an open marriage can disqualify a couple from membership in certain groups, but it also serves as an alternative for people who primarily want to love someone else.

Open marriages can take several forms, but one common style is allowing people to look for new partners they intend to marry after a divorce. For example, a father might want to find a new mother to help raise his children when he has custody of them.

Couples may also want to remain together for financial reasons, but without remaining together socially.

Read More: Dating During a Divorce

Parenting Marriage

A parenting marriage is similar to a standard marriage, and to the point that it’s arguably no different at all. The main difference is that a parenting marriage is non-romantic, so there is no expectation of intimate closeness between the partners.

This form of marriage is specifically for the benefit of children, especially when the parents want to raise their kids as effectively as possible. Parenting marriages often change to a divorce once the children are adults and able to live independently, at which point the former couple can look for new relationships.

Key Takeaways
Divorce is not the only option if you’re having trouble in a relationship. Trying to solve problems first and only proceeding to divorce if things don’t work out is often more effective for resolving problems.