Earlier this week the Ministry of Justice introduced a controversial divorce fee hike, following a consultation last summer where it was confirmed that costs were likely to go up – but no specific date was given as to when. Eight months later and the fee has now risen from £410 to £550, a rise of 34% and the second hike in two years.
Many have criticised the short notice and lack of publicity as the MoJ sent an email only days before the fees went up. Commenting on the recent price hike, Jo Edwards chair of the family law organisation said:
‘As a result of the steep increase, many people currently in the process of separating will have received incorrect information as to the charge for lodging a divorce petition and, in reality, won’t have time to get their petition in before the fee increase takes effect.’
Many have described this fee increase as a tax on divorce. The government estimates that the cost of administering an uncontested divorce is only £270 and so the fee increase therefore represents a profit of over 100%.
Some have suggested that the excess money taken in divorce court fees will be used on ‘propping up’ other areas of the court system affected by cut backs. The MoJ has estimated that the fee hike will generate £64 million each year to offset the cost to the taxpayer of running the courts, which amounted to £1.1 billion in the 2014/15 financial year.
According to Joshua Rozenberg, the rise could be discriminatory in that there is a risk that couples will now be priced out of a divorce leaving them unable to escape violent or unhappy marriages. This could disproportionally affect woman as according to the Office for National Statistics of the 118,140 divorce applications made in 2012, 76,490 were by women and 41,601 by men.
‘The 34% increase may lead to people unable to afford the fee remaining legally and financially tied to their former partner long after the relationship has ended,’ says Jo Edwards. ‘Increasing fees will disproportionately impact women, who constitute two-thirds of those initiating divorce proceedings. The extent of the rise could, as the judiciary and others have warned, lead to women being trapped in unhappy or violent marriages.’
Fees are ‘never popular, but they are necessary if we are to reduce the burden of the courts and tribunals on the taxpayer’, said a MoJ spokesperson. ‘We have sought to protect the vulnerable at every stage. That is why we have a remission scheme to protect and help those who cannot afford to pay. These fee increases have not been brought forward; they are being introduced on schedule.’
Statutory guidance setting out the new court fees can be found here.
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