If you decide to end your marriage, there are certain issues that have to be settled. For example, if you and your spouse have children, you’ll have to decide how much time each parent is going to spend with them and how much child support has to be paid. You’ll also have to divide your property and debts. These issues will all be resolved as part of the divorce proceedings. In Hawaii, the Family Court hears divorce cases.
In order to start the divorce process without a lawyer, you’ll need to complete some forms. You can obtain the forms online. The forms that are required vary from island to island, so the starting point is to go to the Hawaii State Judiciary's website and select the island where you live (or, if you've already been served, the island where the papers were filed). The link will take you to the website for the correct court, and from there you can navigate to the required divorce forms. Even though these are official websites and forms, you should double-check with your local court to make sure the judges there will accept them.
When you complete the forms, be thorough and complete in responding to the questions. Fill out the forms on a computer if you can. If not, write or print neatly and legibly.
Generally speaking, you can expect to find two kinds of divorce packets: one for divorce with children, and one for divorce without children. You can also expect to find separate packets for the "plaintiff" (the spouse who is initiating the divorce) and the "defendant" (the spouse who has been served with divorce papers). You should select the packet the fits your situation. The packets include instructions to guide you through the process.
The Oahu (First Circuit) Family Court Forms website is a good example of what you can expect to find when you navigate to your island's website and divorce forms index, and of the kinds of forms that are generally required. Plaintiffs can always expect to complete a summons and complaint, and defendants can expect to complete an answer. There are also other forms that are required depending on where you live.
When you’re ready, make two copies of all documents. Eventually you will give one to the other spouse and keep the other for yourself. The original will be filed with the court.
Go to your local courthouse and ask to file the documents. You’ll need to pay a fee unless you complete the document entitled "Ex Parte Motion and Affidavit to Waive Filing Fees," which will be reviewed by the court. If the judge agrees that the fee should be waived because you can’t afford it, you won't have to pay to file documents in your case.
When you give your documents to the clerk of court, they will be stamped with the date and time. The clerk will also assign your case a file number, which you'll have to put on every document from now on. Serve your spouse as soon as possible after leaving.
When you’ve prepared and filed your forms, you should immediately serve your spouse with the documents. Service of process is very important in the American legal system because it ensures that everyone has notice about what’s going on and an opportunity to “appear,” or argue, their point of view. Service of process ensures that no one is ever “ambushed” in a courtroom.
If you are the plaintiff, it's important to know that Hawaii requires you to serve file-stamped copies of the summons and complaint and other documents. This means you have to give your spouse copies of the documents that the court clerk file-stamped when you took them in for filing.
If you are the respondent, you also have an important obligation. If you live in the State of Hawaii, you must respond to the summons and petition within 20 days, or your spouse can get a default judgment (meaning, the court will give your spouse everything requested in the petition, without input from you) against you.
If your spouse is an adult who is pro se (meaning, has not hired a lawyer), then you should serve your spouse directly at the location at your spouse’s home address. If your spouse has retained a lawyer, serve the lawyer at the lawyer’s office and don’t send copies to your spouse.
Service rules may vary slightly by island, but generally speaking, if you are the plaintiff and you will be serving your spouse within the State of Hawaii, you must accomplish service in one of the following ways:
Most other documents can be served by first class mail or hand delivery.
Different rules may apply if you are trying to serve someone who is hard to locate, in the military, or in jail. Check with the clerk of court for more information on how to proceed in these unusual situations.
Both the petitioner and the respondent have to complete forms called the "Assets and Debts Statement" and the "Income and Expense Statement." The purpose of these documents is to detail each spouse’s financial picture, from employment to assets to liabilities and monthly expenses. Certain supplemental documents, like pay stubs and tax returns, may have to be attached. This helps everyone to understand more about, for example, how much child support should be paid, or whether one spouse should receive alimony. Make sure you are clear, detailed, and candid when you complete this form. File it with the court and serve it upon your spouse as well.
You can find lots of information on the divorce process in Hawaii, as well as information on related issues like child custody, property division, and alimony, in our section on Hawaii Divorce and Family Law.
The Hawaii State Judiciary presents an informational program, "Divorce Law in Hawaii," that helps the general public to understand Hawaii's divorce laws and processes. Seminars are available throughout the year, and an older session can also be viewed online if you can't make it to a live class.