Clearly, ending a marriage involves many emotional and practical issues. But it also requires navigating the legal system in Hawaii. While that might seem overwhelming, it doesn't have to be all that difficult, particularly if you and your soon-to-be ex can cooperate. Here's what you need to know to get started with a Hawaii divorce.
Before you begin the process of filing for divorce, you should figure out the answers to a few preliminary questions.
As of 2022, Hawaii eliminated any requirements that you must have lived in the state for a certain period of time before you may get a divorce in its courts. Instead, on the day you start the divorce process, you simply must be living (in what you consider to be your permanent home) on the island that's in the family circuit court where you file the divorce papers. (Haw. Rev. Stat. § 580-1 (2022).)
As in all states, you need a legally accepted reason (or "ground") for divorce in Hawaii. The state only allows "no-fault" divorce grounds, meaning that you don't have to accuse your spouse of any misconduct to get a divorce.
Most couples who file for divorce in Hawaii use the no-fault ground that their marriage is "irretrievably broken." That basically means that they no longer get along, and there's no reasonable prospect of getting back together. If you claim that your marriage is broken beyond repair when you file for divorce, but your spouse denies that claim, a judge will have to hold a hearing, weigh all the relevant facts, and decide whether, in fact, your marriage is irretrievably broken. The judge may hold off on making a decision for 30-60 days and suggest that you and your spouse get counseling in the meantime. (Haw. Rev. Stat. §§ 580-41(1), 580-42 (2022).)
Hawaii also allows you to file for divorce based on the fact that you and your spouse have lived apart for at least two years or for the duration of a legal separation decree. If you didn't have a court order regarding your separation (such as a separate maintenance order or a legal separation decree), you'll have to show that there's no reasonable chance you and your spouse will get back together, and that a divorce wouldn't be harsh for your spouse or against the public interest. (Haw. Rev. Stat. §§ 580-41 (2022).)
If you can file for an uncontested divorce in Hawaii, the entire process will be much easier, quicker, and cheaper than a traditional contested divorce. But for a divorce to be truly uncontested, you and your spouse will have to settle all the issues involved in ending your marriage, including:
Once you've resolved those issues, you'll typically put everything in a marital settlement agreement, which can then become a part of your divorce judgment.
If you have any remaining disagreements on the issues by the time you file your divorce papers, your case will move forward as a contested divorce.
If you have a settlement agreement and a relatively uncomplicated case, you should be able to handle filing for divorce yourself. A do-it-yourself (DIY) divorce will be the cheapest and quickest route to ending your marriage. But it still will take you some time and attention to detail to make sure you have all the right forms, have filled them out correctly, and have followed all of the steps and requirements for divorce in Hawaii.
Short of having an attorney represent you, there are other ways of getting help with the process. For example, you could do one or a combination of the following:
Without an agreement, you'll follow a traditional contested divorce route. When that's the case, you'll probably have to hire a lawyer, who will take care of the forms, filing, and all other legal matters during the divorce. So the information outlined below is mainly focused on the filing process when you're handling your own divorce.
The Hawaii Courts website provides an overview of the divorce process in the state, along with instructions and downloadable forms you'll need. There are separate forms depending on the island where you live. The forms may also differ depending on whether the divorce is contested or uncontested, and whether you have minor children with your spouse.
The court's website has interactive forms for certain situations, such as a divorce without children. The process takes you through a step-by-step online interview that will prepare the appropriate forms for you. Check to see whether this resource includes forms for your island.
Some divorce forms are standard throughout the state, such as:
These are just a few of the forms the court requires when you're filing for divorce. Even though the court's website provides many of the necessary documents, it pays to contact your circuit court clerk to ensure that you have the complete set of forms. The last thing you want is to make a trip to the clerk's office, only to discover that you are missing needed forms or have used the wrong ones. Some court clerks will mail you hard copies of the forms you need.
Once your divorce papers are ready, you'll file them with the local family circuit court. You may do this in person at the court clerk's office, or you may file the forms through Hawaii's electronic filing system.
Be prepared for the fact that the court charges fees for filing legal documents. As of 2022 (but always subject to change), the Family Court filing fees are $215 for divorce without children and $265 for divorce with minor children (including the $50 surcharge for the parent education class, discussed below). If you can't afford to pay the fees, you may request that the court waive them. This is known as a Request to Proceed In Forma Pauperis. If the court approves your request, you won't have to pay any court fees during the divorce.
Once your documents are filed, the court clerk will provide you with a stamped copy for your spouse. The clerk will also assign a number to your case, which you will include on all further documents you may have to file during the course of the divorce.
You will then have to provide your spouse with a copy of the divorce paperwork through what's known as "service of process." The easiest way to do this is to give your spouse the forms and have your spouse sign an Appearance and Waiver, which you'll then file with the court.
If your spouse won't agree to sign the waiver, you'll usually have to arrange to have a sheriff (or any adult who's not involved in the divorce case) hand-deliver the divorce papers to your spouse. If your spouse is outside of the court circuit where you file for divorce, you may ask the court for permission to mail the documents to your spouse by registered or certified mail (return receipt requested). And if you haven't been able to find your spouse or serve the documents directly, ask the court clerk about alternate methods of service, such as publishing a notice in a newspaper. (Haw. Rev. Stat. § 580-3; Haw. Rules Civ. Proc., rule 4 (2022).)
After you've filed and served the divorce papers, pay attention to the next steps needed to move your case along.
Ordinarily, your spouse will have 20 days to respond to the complaint after being served with the divorce papers. Usually, your spouse will reply with an "Answer" that agrees or disagrees with what you've stated and requested in the complaint. The answer may also ask the court address issues such as support, custody and visitation, and division of marital property.
If your spouse doesn't file an answer in time, the judge may proceed with the case without giving your spouse any further notice.
You and your spouse must submit both an Income and Expense Statement and an Asset and Debt Statement. These documents require you to provide a great deal of financial data about your economic status. It's a good idea to gather as much of this information in advance as you can, because it's important that you be as thorough as possible in completing this form. You must be totally honest, because a spouse who fails to disclose all accounts, debts, or assets could face penalties, such as fines and possibly jail time.
Hawaii courts require all divorcing parents to take a class through Hawaii's Kids First program. The purpose is to educate and sensitize the parents to children's needs that may arise because of the divorce.
Unlike some other states, Hawaii doesn't have a mandatory waiting period before you can finalize your divorce. So if your case is uncontested, you can usually get your divorce judgment within a month or two after you filed the initial paperwork. How long it will actually take depends largely on the family court's caseload in your circuit. The judge may waive the need to appear for a hearing to finalize your uncontested divorce, which could speed things up. (Haw. Rev. Stat. § 580-42 (a) (2022).)
It will take longer to get your final divorce if your case is contested. The vast majority of couples settle their disputes at some point during the divorce process, usually with the help of their lawyers, mediators, or both. In fact, the judge may order you and your spouse to participate in mediation if it might help you come to an agreement about one or more contested issues. (Haw. Fam. Ct. Rules, rule 53.1 (2022).) But even if you reach a settlement before going to trial, the process can take several months or more. And if you do need a trial to have a judge make a decision about any unresolved issues, the entire process could take at least a year—or more.