Published: 15th December 2015
Resolution Chair Jo Edwards addressed MPs at a hearing at the House of Commons last week to express her concerns about rising divorce fees, fearing that it could price some couples out of access to justice in the family courts.
With fees rising by 60% in just two years, the situation is similar to that in Australia, where a 42% court fee increase was labelled as 'divorce tax'.
Back in September 2015, Resolution published their response to the Ministry of Justice Court and Tribunal Fees proposal which said that they believed the increases to divorce court fees were unjust and they weren't convinced that the Government had carried out a sufficient assessment on the impact of increasing the fees for getting divorced.
Two years ago, the court fee for getting a divorce increased from £340 to £410 and now the government are proposing that it increases to £550. Ministers had considered raising the fee's even higher to £750, which would have seen an increase of 80% in two years, however they reduced this to £550 after concerns were raised about such a steep rise.
During the hearing last week, Jo Edwards raised her concerns with the Justice Committee that current divorce fees are already pricing out most ordinary couples since the removal of legal aid just over 2 and a half years ago and by increasing the fees further, they are putting couples at risk of staying in unhappy or abusive relationships as they simply can't afford to get divorced.
Jo Edwards said, "I'm grateful for the opportunity to raise the very serious concerns Resolution has about the proposed divorce fee increase with the Justice Committee. Divorce is not a 'choice to litigate' - it's a necessary part of the legal process to bring a relationship to an end. The increase to £550 may lead to people being unable to afford the fee remaining legally and financially tied to their former partners long after a relationship has ended - something that becomes dangerous in cases of abuse."
"It's important to note that this divorce fee will be payable regardless of whether the parties choose to use an out of court solution such as mediation to resolve money and children issues ancillary to the divorce, or to pursue remedies through the courts, and far outstrips the actual administrative cost of divorce, £270. The family courts exist to provide justice, not to make profit and it is not appropriate to make money out of relationship breakdown."
Resolution hope that the Government will now put plans to increase divorce fees on hold until they have carried out a more thorough assessment to determine the impact the previous fee increases had and whether increasing the fee even further to £550 will stop more people from pursuing their right to justice in the family courts.
Resolution also say that whilst they acknowledge the courts Remission System is trying to help those who cannot afford the fee for getting divorced (if they meet certain assessment criteria), experiences from their members tells them that the system isn't working and isn't understood correctly by the general public.
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