A parent’s duty to support his or her child continues even after divorce or separation from the child’s other parent. In Hawaii, both parents have a duty to financially support their child(ren). Custody and visitation arrangements will affect how much support each parent pays. Specifically, the parent who spends less than half time with the child—the “noncustodial parent”—actually pays support. The “custodial parent”—parent who spends the most time with the child—will support the child directly. In other words, a custodial parent generally won’t have to pay support to the other parent.
In most circumstances, a child support award will depend on the number of children involved, the parents’ income, and the child’s needs. You can estimate your potential support obligation support by using Hawaii’s child support calculator. A judge or state agency will review the guideline amount, but can increase or decrease child support payments based on your situation and child’s needs.
To use the guidelines, you need to know both parents’ incomes and the child custody arrangement. A parent’s gross and net income amounts are both relevant for child support purposes.
“Gross income” is regular income from all sources. This includes a parent’s salary, wages, bonuses and commissions, overtime pay, pensions and royalties. Military special pay and allowances, as well as spousal support received, count too.
If you're unemployed, chances are you still have income for child support purposes in the form of workers’ compensation, unemployment or disability benefits. Also, a court has the authority to impute income—meaning, assign an amount—to a parent who chooses to work less or not at all, unless that parent has a good reason for doing so.
For example, if a parent has a disability or is attending certain job training programs, then this parent will not be held responsible for additional income. Also, a court won’t impute income to a parent who stays home with children under age three. By contrast, am able-bodied parent with older children may be held responsible for up to 30 hours of weekly earnings at minimum wage.
Once you have both parents’ gross income, you make deductions to determine net income for each. A parent’s “net income” is the gross income minus spousal support paid, preexisting child support paid, social security, and state, and federal income taxes. You might qualify for additional deductions depending on the type of work you do, and you could take certain credits for things like health insurance premiums already paid.
You also need to know the custody arrangement, in other words, how much time each parent will spend with the child, before you can calculate support. There are a variety of ways to share parenting time, but the guidelines calculate support differently if the parents share equal time (meaning, the child lives with each parent 50% of the time), close to equal time (where the child stays with the noncustodial parent between 143 and 183 nights a year) or have a split custody arrangement (where the parents divide the kids between them, for example mom takes the older child while dad has the younger child).
Once you’ve determined both parents’ net income and custody arrangements, you are ready to use the guidelines, which will give you a total amount of child support due.
For more information on what is included in gross income and deductions, visit the Hawaii State Judiciary website. The site includes a child support worksheet and copy of the child support guidelines to help you get started. See Haw. Rev. Stat. § 576D-7 (2020).
Sometimes, the resulting guideline child support amount is unfair to a parent or the child. Before a child support order is in place, either parent can ask a court or state agency to adjust the amount of support up or down, based on exceptional circumstances.
Whether a circumstance justifies deviation from the guidelines depends on each family’s unique situation. Some reasons to deviate from the guideline amount are when support payments eat up the majority of the paying parent’s net income, there are other children in the parent’s household who need support, or the parent or child has extraordinary medical or physical needs.
Once a child support order is in place, a noncustodial parent must pay the full amount of support each month (or more often if ordered). Most judges aren’t picky about how support is paid; they only care that it is paid in full and on time.
In many cases, the court can order a wage garnishment, where the child support comes directly out of the other parent's paycheck and is sent to the parent receiving support. Alternatively, a parent can pay child support directly in the form of cash, check, bank transfer, direct deposit, or by using payment apps such as Zelle or Venmo.
Once a child support order is in place, you can ask the court or the Hawaii Child Support Enforcement Agency to modify it at any time, but this will require a process different than an initial request for support. If it has been less than three years since the original child-support order was issued or modified, then you must have a substantial change in circumstances—like the loss of a job, or shift in custody or visitation.
Generally, a change is substantial if it results in a 10 percent increase or decrease in the current amount of child support. This threshold is lower if an order has been in place for three years or more. See Haw. Rev. Stat. § 576E-15 (2020).
Visit our page on Hawaii Divorce and Family Law to find in-depth information on child support, custody, visitation and related issues. For more on enforcing or modifying a child support order, visit the state’s Child Support Enforcement Agency website or call (888) 317-9081.