Understanding and Calculating Child Support in Hawaii

Learn how child support is calculated under Hawaii's guidelines, as well as how to enforce and change your current support order.

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All parents have a legal duty to support their children, regardless of their marital status. Hawaii, like all states in the U.S., has guidelines for calculating child support. Parents may reach an agreement about child support, but their agreements must meet the requirements in the guidelines—because the right to receive support belongs to the child, not a parent.

Who Pays Child Support in Hawaii

When parents are divorced, separated, or were never married, the parent who has the kids for less than half the time (the "noncustodial parent") typically pays child support to the parent who has the child most of the time (the "custodial parent").

But that doesn't mean custodial parents don't have to support their kids. As explained below, Hawaii's child support guidelines calculate both parents' support obligation, based mostly on their incomes and the child's needs. It's assumed that custodial parents meet their support obligation by paying for the child's expenses, such as food, clothing, and housing costs.

Also, the guidelines include a special calculation when the parents have equal or extensive time with their children (more on that below). In that situation, the question of which parent pays child support might depend on the difference in their incomes and the amount of time they have with the kids.

How Hawaii's Child Support Calculation Works

The calculation of child support in Hawaii is mostly based on both parents' incomes, their ability to pay support, and the children's basic needs. Certain principles are baked into Hawaii's guidelines, including:

  • Both parents should be able to keep enough income to meet their basic needs and continue working.
  • The support obligation should cover the children's basic needs, including health insurance and the cost of child care.
  • If the parents have additional income after meeting their children's and their own basic needs, the children should be able to share in the parents' higher standard of living.

On the Hawaii State Judiciary's Child Support page, you can find the most recent copy of the complete guidelines, along with the child support worksheet. You'll need to complete and submit this worksheet when you file for divorce or legal separation, or when you apply for child support separately.

The electronic version of the worksheet will automatically do the computations after you fill in certain information. But it helps to understand how these child support calculations work before you start the process.

What Counts as Income in Hawaii's Child Support Guidelines?

The guidelines explain just what is and is not included in income when you're competing the child support worksheet (under the section on "Terms and Definitions"). Gross monthly income includes salaries, overtime pay, tips, commissions, self-employment and business income, spousal support (alimony) that you receive, interest and investment income, Social Security benefits (but not SSI), workers' compensation, disability, unemployment benefits, and more. It does not include public assistance that's based on need.

The electronic worksheet will calculate net income (also shown in a table in an appendix to the guidelines), as well as each parent's percentage of their combined incomes.

When Can Imputed Income Be Used for Calculating Child Support?

In some situations when a parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, imputed income may be used instead of actual income in the guideline calculation. When attributing income to a parent, the judge will consider all of the specific circumstances, including the parent's assets, earnings history, education and job skills, age, and any barriers to employment.

However, Hawaii law sets restrictions on imputing income for some custodial parents. No additional income will be attributed to a parent whose income is limited because of the need to care for the couple's children, at least one of whom is three years old or younger. But if all of the children are older than that, and the custodial parent is able to work but stays at home instead, the child support calculation will impute income to that parent equal to 30 (or fewer) hours per week at the minimum wage. (Haw. Rev. Stat. § 576D-7(a)(9) (2024).)

Calculating Children's Need for Support

After you fill in the number of children to be covered by this support order, the worksheet will multiply that number by the amount of the federal poverty level for Hawaii (currently $415). Then, to arrive at the primary child support need, you'll add:

  • your monthly expenses for child care required to allow the custodial parent to work or get vocational training, and
  • the monthly cost of health insurance coverage for the child.

The parent who actually pays these costs will receive a credit in the support calculations.

Standard of Living Adjustment

Based on the principle that children are entitled to a share of their parents' income beyond what's needed for basic needs, the guidelines include a standard of living adjustment (SOLA). The electronic version of the worksheet will automatically calculate this adjustment and will show each parent's support obligation.

Adjustments for Parenting Time

A separate worksheet allows you to make additional adjustments to child support when you and your co-parent have:

  • equal time sharing, meaning that each parent has the child or children for approximately 183 overnights in the year,
  • extensive time sharing, which means that each parent has the children for 142-182 overnights per year, or
  • split custody, meaning that each parent has sole physical custody of at least one of their children.

The calculations for equal and extensive time sharing are based strictly on the number of overnights that children spend with their parents under their timesharing schedule—not on the label in the parents' custody orders (such as joint physical custody or shared custody).

When Can Child Support Be Different Than the Guideline Amount?

Under Hawaii law, judges must order the amount of child support that's calculated under the guidelines, unless parents prove that a different amount is warranted because of "exceptional circumstances." (Haw. Rev. Stat. § 571-52.5 (2024).)

It's generally up to judges to decide whether parents have met that requirement. But the guidelines provide some examples of exceptional circumstances that might qualify for a deviation, including when:

  • a child or one of the parents has extraordinary needs (such as special educational needs for children with disabilities)
  • the parent paying child support is also supporting other children, as required by law or court order
  • a parent is unable to earn income—for instance, because of a disability, incarceration, or involuntary unemployment
  • the parents have extra expenses related to the child's attendance in private school, or
  • the amount of a parent's child support obligation under the guideline calculation is more than 70% of that parent's net income.

You and your co-parent may agree to an amount of child support that's higher than what was calculated on the worksheet. But you may not agree to a lower amount in the absence of another exceptional circumstance that would qualify for a deviation from the guideline. Hawaii courts have held that an agreement to below-guideline support, by itself, does not qualify as an exceptional circumstance. (Ching v. Ching, 751 P.2d 93 (Haw. Int. Ct. App. 1988).)

When Does Child Support End in Hawaii?

As a general rule, child support continues until the child reaches the age of majority—which is 18 in Hawaii. Even after the child turns 18, however, the judge may continue the support order while the child is in school. But before the child turns 19, the custodial parent or the child will need to provide the CSEA with proof that the child is currently enrolled as a full-time student or has been accepted and plans to attend for the next semester in college or vocational school.

When a parent requests educational support for an adult child, the court will consider all of the relevant circumstances, including the parents' financial situation and the child's ability to contribute by working part-time or getting financial assistance.

Hawaiian judges may also order parents to pay support for adult children who are legally incompetent (such as because of a serious mental disability).

(Haw. Rev. Stat. §§ 577-1, 580-47, 584-15(e) (2024); Jaylo v. Jaylo, 262 P.3d 245 (Haw. 2011)

How to Apply for Child Support in Hawaii

When you have children and file for divorce or legal separation in Hawaii, child support will be addressed as part of that legal process.

If you aren't married to your child's other parent, you may apply for services from the CSEA to request a child support order and, if necessary, ask the agency to establish paternity. The CSEA has the legal authority to obtain a child support order in an administrative procedure or through the courts. (Haw. Rev. Stat. § 576D-3 (2024).)

Paying and Collecting Child Support in Hawaii

Under Hawaii law, judges must usually include an income withholding order (also called an "earnings assignment") when they order parents to pay child support. With income withholding, the employer will deduct the periodic support payments from the parent's paycheck and forward them to the CSEA, which will send them on to the recipient parent.

Of course, income withholding won't always work, such as when the noncustodial parents are self-employed, unemployed, or working under the table. When that's the case, the judge may require a parent to make the payments to the CSEA or even directly to the custodial parent. But the judge may not allow direct payments unless both parents have agreed to that arrangement or withholding wouldn't be in the child's best interests.

(Haw. Rev. Stat. §§ 571-52.2, 571-52.3, 576D-10 (2024).)

Agency Enforcement of Child Support

If you're aren't receiving court-ordered child support payments, you can request enforcement services from the CSEA. The agency is authorized to use a number of different methods to collect delinquent support, including:

  • intercepting tax refunds
  • suspending driver's, professional, and recreational licenses
  • placing liens on property, and
  • freezing and seizing financial assets.

What Can Happen to Parents Who Don't Pay Child Support?

In addition to the financial repercussions that can result from the CSEA's enforcement methods (described above), you could face fines and even jail time if you've been deliberately avoiding paying child support. Your co-parent (or the CSEA) may file a motion in the Hawaii courts to have you found in contempt of court for willful violation of the support order. If you're found guilty, you'll have to pay a fine or serve time in jail (or both).

In the most extreme cases, deadbeat parents who've refused to pay child support for more than a year (or owe more than $5,000) could face federal criminal prosecution if they live in a different state than the child or have left the state to avoid paying support. Penalties and fines depend on the circumstances, but the deadbeat parent could face up to two years in prison.

(Haw. Rev. Stat. §§ 576E-18, 576E-19; 18 U.S.C. § 228 (2024).)

How to Change the Amount of Child Support

Given the serious consequences of not paying court-ordered child support, it's critical that you take immediate action if you're facing difficulties in making the payments. You may ask for help from the CSEA to get a change in your existing order.

Either parent may request a modification in child support if there's a been a substantial change in circumstances that would affect the proper amount of support, such as job loss, a new disability, the other parent's increased income, or a change in the parents' custody arrangements. The judge will presume that there's been a qualifying change of circumstances if a new calculation under the current guidelines (and the parents' current situation) would result in an amount of support that's 10% higher or lower than the existing order.

Even if there's been no substantially changed circumstances, Hawaii law allows either parent to ask the CSEA or the court for a review and adjustment of their current child support order once every three years.

(Haw. Rev. Stat. §§ 576D-7, 580-47 (2024).)

Does a Parent's Remarriage Affect Child Support?

If either parent gets married again, the new marriage—by itself—won't affect child support. The income of a parent's new spouse isn't included in the guideline calculation. Also, because stepparents don't generally have a legal duty to support their stepchildren (unless the children's parents have abandoned or can't support them), the fact that a parent now is living with a blended family shouldn't qualify as an exceptional circumstance to justify deviating from the guideline.

However, if either parent has additional children with a new partner, the legal obligation to support those kids may qualify as an exceptional circumstance—and therefore as a change of circumstances justifying a request to modify the existing support order.

Getting Help with Child Support

As explained in this article, either parent can request assistance from the CSEA to establish, enforce, or modify a child support order. But there are some situations when getting help from a family lawyer could make a big difference—particularly if you're arguing for an amount of child support that's higher or lower than the amount calculated under the guidelines.

Also, if other enforcement methods have failed, it might be faster to go directly to court with a contempt motion rather than wait for the agency to take that action. An attorney can help you navigate those contempt proceedings and prove your case in court. It might help to know that under Hawaii law, the judge may order the other parent to pay or contribute to your costs and attorney's fees for pursuing enforcement of child support in court. (Haw. Rev. Stat. § 580-47(f) (2024).)

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