Sheila Vierra, Attorney at Law, LLLC
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How do assets and debts get divided in a Hawaii divorce?

Getting divorced is stressful and unpredictable. You and your spouse may not agree on terms for your divorce. If you can't compromise and figure out how to fairly separate from one another, the courts can help. Unless you have a prenuptial agreement or feel able to set and follow specific terms for asset division, the judge that presides over your divorce will determine how your assets get divided.

In order to have the courts fairly divide your possessions and debts, you will need to create a list of all assets and debts. Certain assets, like fine art, memorabilia or antiques may require outside, professional assistance to fairly price. You may also need professional help reviewing financial records if you believe your spouse has taken steps to hide assets from you and the courts during the divorce.

Hawaiian courts strive for fair and equitable division

Every state has different rules and standards for the division of personal property and debts. In Hawaii, judges should strive to divide marital assets and debts in a manner that is fair and equitable to both parties. Equitable does not necessarily mean even. Instead, it means that the courts will use discretion to ensure fair treatment for both spouses.

Typically, marital property gets defined as assets or debts incurred during the course of the marriage. Private property owned by one spouse before the marriage is typically exempt from division. However, in certain cases, the courts may decide to divide certain personal assets during divorce.

Debts are also divided based on dates, rather than the names on the accounts. For example, even if only one spouse ever used a particular credit card or incurred student loans during the marriage, both spouses will likely share those debts. If the student loan originated prior to the marriage, however, it may remain the sole responsibility of the spouse who financed classes with it.

Houses and other property may not get assigned to one spouse

When you hear dramatic stories about real estate in divorces, it can be misleading. Typically, one spouse won't just receive the home in a divorce. Instead, the courts will determine, based on a variety of factors, how to handle this major asset. In cases with low levels of home equity and no children, the courts may simply order that the home be sold, with the spouses splitting the equity.

Other times, particularly if there are children, one spouse may receive the home in the divorce. However, in order to comply with the court order, the home must get refinanced. The spouse retaining the home will have to qualify for a mortgage and then pay the other spouse the proper share of equity as determined by the courts. Different arrangements can happen. Home possession, like the division of other assets, varies substantially from case to case.

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