We’ve all heard the horror stories about divorce—the bitter arguments, the sky-high attorney fees, and endless court appearances. There’s a better way to get divorced. If you and your spouse can work together and compromise, you can have a simpler, cheaper divorce called an “uncontested divorce.” Not only can you avoid lengthy courtroom battles in an uncontested divorce, you may not have to go to court at all.
This article explains how to get an uncontested divorce in Hawaii. If you still have questions after reading this article, you should consult with an experienced family law attorney.
Couples who agree on all the key issues in their divorce have the option to get an “uncontested divorce.” You can get an uncontested divorce whether or not you have children. This means that you and your spouse have resolved all issues in your case, including division of debts and assets, child custody and visitation, child support, tax deductions and exemptions, alimony amounts, and any other relevant issues.
You’ll need to memorialize your divorce agreement in writing. You and your spouse can do this on your own or with a mediator’s help. Along with your divorce agreement, you’ll take your uncontested divorce paperwork to the court for filing. A judge will grant your uncontested divorce without a court hearing if your divorce agreement is fair and meets the best interests of any children.
The uncontested divorce process in Hawaii is quicker, cheaper, and more painless than going trial and arguing your case before a judge. It also removes the element of uncertainty from divorce, because you and your spouse will make all the decisions instead of a leaving matters up to a judge to decide.
Only Hawaii residents can file for divorce in the state. Specifically, to file for divorce in Hawaii you must have lived in Hawaii for at least six months before filing. In addition, there are different judicial circuits for each island, and each circuit has a supplemental residency requirement requiring you to live in that district for three months.
For example, if you want to get divorced in the First Circuit, you have to have been living in the state of Hawaii for six months and Oahu for at least three months before you file for divorce. See Haw. Rev. Stat. § 580-1 (2020). Once you file for divorce, there’s no waiting period before your divorce is entered. This means you can start and finish an uncontested divorce as quickly as you can meet residency requirements and have everything signed, filed, and approved by a judge. By contrast, a contested divorce that goes to trial could drag on for several months.
One of the most important things you’ll need to understand about getting divorced in Hawaii is how the Hawaiian court system works. The Hawaii Family Courts are responsible for all divorce proceedings. Family courts are divided into separate judicial circuits based on geographic location. If you’re handling a divorce without an attorney, you will be responsible for filing your paperwork in the correct circuit. Each circuit has slightly different forms, processes, and fee schedules. The family court is divided into the following circuits:
Procedures will vary slightly from circuit to circuit and you will have to file additional forms if you have children. The Hawaii State Judiciary offers free online divorce forms for couples seeking an uncontested divorce in Hawaii. Different divorce forms are available for the different circuits.
Once you’ve completed your Hawaii divorce forms, you’ll take the paperwork to your local circuit court for filing. Be prepared to pay a filing fee of around $200, or more if you have children. If you’re unable to pay the filing fee, you can ask the court clerk for a fee waiver form. If you meet the income criteria, a judge will waive the divorce fees in your case.
Once your case is filed, you should have received a case number. It’s important to keep track of that number and to include it on all future filings. You’ll need to arrange to have your divorce complaint properly served on your spouse. This means you’ll need to hire a sheriff or process server to hand deliver the documents to your spouse. Alternatively, your spouse can agree to accept service of the complaint. In that case, he or she would need to sign an acceptance of service for filing with the court. See Haw. Rev. Stat. § 580-3 (2020).
With all your divorce paperwork filed and your spouse properly served, a court clerk will place your case on a special court calendar called the “Uncontested Divorce by Affidavit” calendar. The judge will review your documents outside of court, and if there are no questions or concerns, the judge will sign the divorce decree. You can likely obtain certified copies of the divorce decree within four to six weeks.
Remember also that the court clerks who help you in the courthouse can’t give you any information or legal advice about your divorce. If you have questions about the process or legal implications of your divorce, you should reach out to the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii or consult with a local family law attorney.