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Steep hike in divorce fees… a way to discourage divorce?

The Ministry of Justice announced last week that the issue fee for a divorce has been increased to £550 from £410. A 34% increase with no more than 2 days’ notice and very little communication about the same.

Whilst the change in fees weren’t unforeseen, the short notice and lack of communication about the same took many by surprise. Some family practitioners were only made aware of the change through letters from courts whilst others found out through social media, including Twitter. Resolution condemned the ‘stealthy implementation’ of the divorce fee hike stating it was ‘scandalous’ and ‘not backed up by a proper impact assessment.’

With little notice given, it left those within the divorce process with incorrect information as to the court fees. It also did not provide sufficient time for petitions to be lodged at court before the fee increase was implemented. It is questionable as to why the government did not provide sufficient notice of this steep change but rather sought to provide a mere two days’ notice!

Notwithstanding the manner in which the fees have been introduced, there is much criticism surrounding the topic of the fee increase in itself. As set out in a previous blog the change in fees has been a hot topic of conversation for some time now with Resolution telling the House of Commons Justice Select Committee, in December 2015, that the new fees amounted to a ‘tax’ on divorce.

The hike in fees may hinder the ability for some to obtain a divorce, leaving many in unhappy or even violent marriages. The increase in court fees to £410 some two years ago was more than sufficient to cover the administrative fees which amounted to circa £270, as stated by the MoJ. It may be viewed by some that this increase is a way for the courts to profit from divorces. Those seeking a divorce will now have no option but to pay the increased fee. It is unlike other court fees where parties can choose not to issue proceedings and use alternative methods for resolving disputes.

The increase in fees is likely to add further acrimony in an often already bitter situation between parties within the divorce process. It is left to be seen whether the change in fees will in fact discourage divorces, resulting in vulnerable individuals staying in abusive or unhappy marriages for longer.