Published: 31 March 2016
On 21st March 2016, the Ministry of Justice increased divorce fees from £410 to £550. With the announcement being made at short notice and with a distinct lack of publicity, the fee increases have caught many family lawyers – and their clients – off guard.
Although the fee increases were first discussed last summer, family law firms were only notified a few days before they were due to come into force. Family lawyers have fiercely opposed the fee increases, with many feeling that they are unjustified and will price out lower income families, perhaps even forcing some couples to stay in unhappy – even violent – relationships. The Ministry of Justice has said that it does not expect the increase in divorce fees to discourage couples from seeking a divorce, however research has shown that many single-parents are on a lower income, so there is no doubt many families will be affected by the fee increases.
The cost of administering a divorce has been estimated at £270, so the new fees of £550 have left many criticising the fee increases as the previous cost of £410 was more than enough to cover the administration cost.
The Chair of the family law organisation Resolution, Jo Edwards said: 'the stealthy implementation of the hike in divorce fees, from £410 to £550 (after an increase only two years ago) is scandalous and not backed up by proper impact assessment.'She added: '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 won't have had time to get their petition in before the fee increase took effect.Instead, the way in which this has been gone about, with no formal consultation or announcement, demonstrates a shocking lack of transparency from government. The manner in which they're implementing this increase, by calling courts and instructing them to charge more [from 21st March], is not how a responsible government department should act.'
We reported in a previous blog in December 2015 that Jo Edwards had addressed MPs at a hearing at the House of Commons to express her concerns about rising divorce fees, describing them as a form of 'divorce tax'. Addressing this issue, a Ministry of Justice spokesperson said that while fees ‘are never popular’, they are necessary ‘if we are to reduce the burden of the courts and tribunals on the taxpayer’, adding that: ‘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.'
If your relationship is on the verge of a breakdown and you want some advice about the likely cost of divorce then the team of family law experts at K J Smith Solicitors are here to help. We also offer a free 45 minute consultation on any aspect of family law. Contact K J Smith Solicitors today on 01491 630000 (Henley on Thames), 020 7070 0330 (London), 0118 418 1000 (Reading), 01753 325000 (Windsor), 01256 584000 (Basingstoke) or 01483 370100 (Guildford).