A New Justice Select Committee (JSC) report published on 20 June 2016 has criticised the increase in Court and tribunal fees in many cases. However, the report was particularly critical of the increase in divorce petition costs labelling them as “effectively a divorce tax”.
The government had originally been proposing to raise the fee for divorce petitions from £410 to £750 however, in January 2015 it was announced that this would not proceed. In July 2015 it was then announced that the fee would be increased to £550 although there was a lack of clarity about when this increase would be brought in.
The JSC report highlights that the fee to issue divorce petitions is approximately double the costs to the Courts of providing the divorce service. The report states that the increase is “unjustified”. There are particular concerns that the increased fee is discriminatory to women, they bring the majority of divorce petitions in the UK, but also may be unable to afford the £550. The JSC report calls for the increase to be rescinded.
Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division, says; “There are only two things that the justice system does where you have to use the system. One is divorce, the other is probate … Therefore, we have a captive market … I have to say that there is something rather unattractive – particularly if one is selling justice, which one should not be doing – in battening on to the fact that there is a captive market and that, because there is no elasticity of demand, one can simply go on putting up the fees until it becomes another poll tax on wheels. There will come a point where people start to say to themselves, “why does it cost six, seven or eight times as much to get divorced as it did to get married in the first place?”
Nigel Shepherd, Chair of Resolution, says; “We are pleased to see the Justice Select Committee has listened to Resolution’s evidence and recommended the government rescind the recent rise in fees for divorce petitions. The Committee rightly recognises that this rise effectively amounted to a new tax on divorce, and that by raising it, people were being charged around twice what it actually costs to process a divorce petition…We urge Ministers to listen to the Committee, reverse the fee hike, and reimburse the thousands of people who have been unfairly penalised as a result of divorce tax.’
Whilst there is a fee remission available for some on passporting benefits or a low income and the amount of fees payable can be graded for those on a lesser income, there is still a concern that the cost of bringing a divorce petition is, for some people, becoming prohibitively high.
Samantha Lee, Managing Director and Head of Family Law at Swain & Co Solicitors says; “It is concerning that Court fees are continuing to increase, particularly in relation to the issuing of divorce petitions given that this has to be carried out by the Courts. At Swain & Co we appreciate that divorce can be a difficult time for the family and that there can be many financial implications as a result of a breakdown of a relationship. We therefore offer a range of reasonably priced packages and are always willing to advise in relation to potential fee remission for Court fees.”