In Hawaii, both parents have a duty to support their child (or children). Generally, however, the parent who spends less than half time with the child – the non-custodial parent – actually pays support. The custodial parent – the parent who has the most time with the child – remains responsible for child support too, but the law assumes that this parent spends the required amount directly on the child.
In most circumstances, the amount of child support payments depends on the number of children, the income of both parents, and the child’s needs. You can estimate your fair share of support by using Hawaii’s child support guidelines, but a court or state agency could increase or decrease payments based on certain exceptions.
To use the guidelines, you need to know both parents’ incomes and the child-custody arrangement. For income, you need to calculate both gross and net income. Gross income is all regular income from all sources. This includes your salary, wages, bonuses and commissions from your job, but also any overtime and money from second jobs that occur on a regular basis. Additionally, it is your pension, any royalties, dividends, or funds from a trust, among other things. Military special pay and allowances, as well as spousal support received, count too.
If you are 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 voluntarily works 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 will not impute income to a parent who stays home with children under three-years-old. A homemaker with older children who is able to work, however, 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. Net income is gross income minus spousal support paid, pre-existing 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 non-custodial parent between 143 and 183 nights a year) or have a split custody arrangement (where the parents divide the kids between them – mom takes the older child while dad has the younger child, for example).
Once you determine both parents’ net income and custody, 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, go to on the Hawaii State Judiciary website. It includes the guidelines, a checklist to help you gather the right information for your calculations, and has the guidelines worksheet and extensive time-sharing worksheet to help you with the math.
Sometimes, the amount given by the guidelines 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, either up or down, based on exceptional circumstances.
Whether a circumstance justifies deviation from the guidelines depends on each family’s unique situation. Some good examples, however, are when child support payments exceed 70% of the paying parent’s net income, or where there are other children (from a different relationship) to support, or where either the child or the parent has extraordinary needs – like physical or emotional disabilities.
Once a child support order is in place, you can still ask the court or the Child Support Enforcement Agency (CSEA) 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.