How is property divided in a divorce under the laws of Hawai'i?

A divorce is a time of great uncertainty. You are essentially starting your life over, apart from your former partner. There is paperwork to fill out, decisions to make about where you will live and who will keep what personal and real property. If you have children, you must also decide how to share custody.

Depending on how well you and your soon-to-be ex are getting along, dividing property may be relatively easy or a never-ending argument. Before you make any decisions, here is what you should know about how property is divided in Hawaii.

Property is divided fairly, though may be not evenly

Hawaii is an equitable distribution state. When the family court divides your personal and real property held jointly or individually, it is divided equitably. However, an equitable division does not always mean an equal division. It does not matter if that property is listed in one person’s name; it is still considered property and could be subject to division. This also includes debts.

Division can result in an actual distribution of property to a spouse. For example, money in a checking account can be distributed to each spouse in equal or non-equal shares. In addition, division can result in one spouse keeping the property, and the other spouse receiving a payment for the part that was supposed to be shared. For example, a car may be awarded to one spouse, but that spouse may have to pay the other spouse for 50 percent of the equity in the car.

The type of assets that will be divided include:

  • Marital home
  • Motor vehicles
  • Bank accounts
  • Investment accounts
  • Retirement accounts
  • Stocks
  • Businesses
  • Furniture and other furnishings
  • Credit card debt
  • Car loans

Some property may be excluded

Certain property is usually excluded from property division. If you received an inheritance or a gift while married, that will be awarded to the receiving spouse. However, any increased value of the inheritance or gift may have to be shared with the other spouse. Also, property owned before the marriage and that still exists will be awarded to the owner-spouse. Again, any increased value during the marriage may have to be shared with the non-owner spouse. Proving assets fall into these categories is a burden to be carried by the person who wants to claim the property.

Division depends on several factors

When dividing assets and debts and determining whether a spouse must pay the other spouse, the family court evaluates the situation. The court will examine the employability of each of the spouses, financial or medical needs, who has more child-rearing burdens and other specific circumstances that may apply in your case.

If you are concerned about protecting certain assets, you should consider contacting an experienced family law attorney who understands the property division laws of Hawai'i. He or she will work to get you what is fair and feasible under the law and can evaluate whether settling the issues, rather than proceeding to court, is the better option for you.

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