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Government rejects recommendation to scrap divorce fee rise

On 21 March 2016 the fee to petition for a divorce rose to £550 from £410.  The fee increase was strongly opposed by family lawyers who were concerned that this rise would make petitioning for a divorce prohibitively expensive for some clients.  What made the increase even more concerning was the fact that it was announced by the divorce centres only days before it was due to be introduced leaving little time for petitions to be finalised under the reduced fee.

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There have also been concerns that the rise in divorce petition fees would adversely impact upon women more than men given that the majority of petitions in England and Wales are brought by women.  In addition, as parties have to apply to the Court for a divorce, there are no other legal options available to divorce, they have to pay the fee if they want to take this step.  As such the rise of an already mandatory fee has proven deeply unpopular.

Since March there have been strong calls for the fee increase to be rescinded, but it seems these have been to no avail.  These calls include one by the House of Commons Justice Committee, who suggest there is no reason for the 34% increase in the Court fee, given that the actual cost of the administrative work on an uncontested divorce is £270.

In response to the Justice Committee’s recommendations the Ministry of Justice said; “"Help is available to those who qualify under the fee remissions scheme, known as Help with Fees, which helps to ensure that those who are unable to pay are not denied access to justice. In the circumstances of a divorce (or any other matter where the parties have a contrary interest in proceedings) the applicant is assessed on his or her own, rather than the household's, means. On this basis, women are more likely to qualify for a fee remission than men.  The new fee of £550 for a divorce came into effect on 21 March. Although it is too soon to draw any firm conclusions, there is no evidence so far that the fee increase has led to a fall in applications for a divorce. We are continuing to monitor the position carefully. Overall, we believe that the fee for a divorce is reasonable when considered against the objectives, generating an estimated £12 million per annum in additional fee income as a contribution to the savings required to make sure that the courts and tribunals are properly funded, and that access to justice is protected."

However, Bob Neill MP, Chair of the Justice Committee, said; "It is disappointing that the Government Response is so negative in respect of the Justice Committee's recommendations; perhaps more concerning is that it is almost offensively perfunctory, appearing to have been rushed out at short notice and giving little evidence of attention paid to the Committee's detailed evidence and analysis. This is all the more surprising given that Government has had more than four months to produce this reply. I therefore intend to raise this matter and possible further steps with the Committee at our next meeting."

Samantha Lee, Managing Director and Head of Family Law at Swain & Co Solicitors says; “At Swain & Co we remain concerned by the potential negative impact of the fee increase on our clients.  We are especially concerned that the fee has risen at a time when the costs of an uncontested divorce are nowhere near the fee a Petitioner has to pay.”

If you are seeking to start divorce proceedings or would like advice on the same, contact Swain & Co Solicitors today on 02392 483322.

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