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Hawaii Divorce Process
Preparing the Divorce Papers
The pro se filer - one filing without a lawyer - completes forms that vary from island to island in Hawaii.
Generally speaking, there are two kinds of divorce packets: one for divorce with children, and one for divorce without children as well as separate packets for the plaintiff and the defendant. The packets include instructions. 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 the island of residence.
The plaintiff, who is the spouse initiating the divorce, completes and files the Complaint for Divorce, the Summons, and the Matrimonial Action Information Sheet and the defendant, who is the spouse who has been served with divorce papers, files an answer.
Filing the Paperwork with the Court
The filer must make two copies of all documents - one for the defendant spouse and the other to keep for himself or herself. The original stays with the court.
The filer must pay a fee unless he or she cannot afford the cost and files a document entitled Ex Parte Motion and Affidavit to Waive Filing Fees, which the court reviews. If the judge agrees, the fees will be waived.
When the documents are filed with the clerk of court, they will be stamped with the date and time. The clerk assigns a file number, which is put on every document from then on. The other spouse should be served as soon as possible after leaving.
Serving the Documents
After filing the divorce papers, the plaintiff should immediately serve the other spouse with the documents. Service of process is very important because it ensures that everyone has notice and an opportunity to argue and defend a point of view.
The plaintiff serves file-stamped copies of the summons and complaint and other documents. The respondent, in turn, must respond to the summons and petition within 20 days, or the plaintiff can get a default judgment, which means the court awards everything requested by the petitioner.
It's important to know that regular, first-class mail is never sufficient when a Hawaii plaintiff serves the defendant with the initial papers. Most other documents can be served by first class mail or hand delivery. Different rules may apply for serving someone who is hard to locate, in the military, or in jail.
Disclosing Financial Information
Both the petitioner and the respondent complete and exchange the Assets and Debts Statement and the Income and Expense Statement. These forms 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 documentation helps everyone to understand more about, for example, how much child support should be paid, or whether one spouse should receive alimony. The form is filed with the court and served upon the spouse as well.
Uncontested vs. Contested Divorce
If both spouses agree on all the key issues in the divorce, they can get an uncontested divorce, which means that the filer takes the divorce paperwork to the courthouse and leaves it there for a judge to review, sign, and return. Neither spouse goes to court, nor talks to the judge. The process is quicker, cheaper, and more painless than having to go to court and fight. It also removes the element of uncertainty from divorce, because the spouses make all the decisions instead of a judge who doesn’t know them or their family. Couples can get an uncontested divorce whether or not they have children.
A couple can only get an uncontested divorce in Hawaii if they meet the residency requirements. The filing spouse must live in the State of Hawaii for at least six continuous months before filing for divorce. In addition, there are different judicial circuits for each island, and each circuit has a supplemental residency requirement. For example, a party wishing to divorce in the First Circuit must live on Oahu for at least three months before filing. On the other hand, once a party files, there’s no waiting period.
The key to uncontested divorce is that both spouses must be in agreement about the terms and conditions of the divorce, including child custody and visitation; child support, health and dental insurance, and medical expenses for the children; tax deductions and exemptions; division of the marital assets and debts; alimony; any other dispute involving the marriage; and lastly, the grounds for the divorce.
When the papers are filed, the clerk stamps them, and the other spouse is served. The petitioner pays the filing fee and any additional surcharges, specifically if either spouse has children. A filer who cannot afford the fees can ask the courthouse clerk for fee waiver forms.
The divorce is placed on a special court calendar called the Uncontested Divorce by Affidavit calendar. The judge reviews the documents outside of court, and if there are no questions or concerns, the judge signs the divorce decree and returns certified copies in the mail within four to six weeks.
If the spouses have minor children, they must attend the parental education classes. Once completed, both parents will receive a certificate of course completion they present at the hearing.
Finalizing the Divorce
The minimum time to finalize after filing is 30 days.
Hawaii is an equitable distribution state. This does not mean that all property will be divided equally, but it means that the property will be divided as fairly as the court sees fit. When the parties cannot reach a settlement on their own, the family court decides which property and debt is to be considered marital and decides the terms and conditions of its division and distribution.
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