Understanding and Calculating Alimony in Hawaii

Find out how alimony (spousal support) is awarded and calculated in Hawaii.

In Hawaii, alimony is called spousal support or spousal maintenance. A judge may order temporary support during divorce proceedings—sometimes called "pendente lite" support—as well as either temporary or permanent support after the divorce is final. Awards generally direct one spouse to pay the other a set amount periodically—monthly or weekly, for example—for a set period of time. In some cases, a judge may order a single lump-sum support payment.

Types of Spousal Support in Hawaii

A court may award permanent or temporary spousal support. Permanent support is rare in Hawaii; judges generally award it only to a spouse with very poor employment prospects due to ill health or advanced age.

A Hawaii court might order temporary support after a divorce is final for one of two basic reasons: to assist a lower-earning spouse with the adjustment to a less expensive lifestyle, or to assist a spouse who needs time and financial assistance to complete education or training before becoming appropriately employed. Courts refer to the first type of alimony as "transitional" and to the second type as "rehabilitative." Transitional alimony is generally of short duration; perhaps as short as six months after a relatively brief marriage or a marriage where the adjustment will not be too extreme. Rehabilitative alimony is based on the actual costs and time needed to complete a program. A spouse requesting rehabilitative alimony must submit a plan to the court, explaining how the plan will lead to suitable employment within a specified time period.

Couples can always agree between themselves on different terms of support than a court would award.

Eligibility for Alimony

Before awarding support or maintenance, a court must find that one spouse has financial need and the other has the ability to pay. A Hawaii court won’t ordinarily require one spouse to live below the marital standard of living to support the other spouse. If a court finds both need and ability to pay, the amount and duration of support will depend on all relevant factors, including:

  • each spouse’s usual occupation during the marriage
  • the vocational skills and employability of the spouse seeking maintenance
  • each spouse’s needs, financial condition, and financial resources
  • the probable duration of need for the spouse seeking maintenance
  • the ability of the spouse seeking maintenance to meet his or her own needs
  • the marital standard of living
  • the length of the marriage
  • each spouse’s age, and physical and emotional condition
  • each spouse’s custodial and child support responsibilities, and
  • the ability of the paying spouse to meet the financial needs of both spouses.

There is no formula for calculating spousal support in Hawaii; a judge has great discretion in deciding what amount to award, or whether to award any support at all.

Modification and Termination

Unless the couple agreed, in writing, that neither will seek any changes in support or maintenance, either spouse may seek modification or termination of periodic payments due to a material change in circumstances. Absent an agreement between the spouses, support will generally terminate if the recipient remarries.

Tax Effects

Periodic support payments are usually taxable to the recipient and tax-deductible by the payer. Couples can sometimes take advantage of this situation by structuring payments to create the best possible tax scenario for both spouses. The IRS generally treats lump-sum payments as property distributions, regardless of whether the couple or the court calls the payments support or alimony. This type of payment is not taxable or deductible for either spouse.

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