It was with some surprise I read last week that the Ministry of Justice is increasing the court fee for divorce from £410 to £500 from 21 March 2016; this is an increase of 34% The increase has not been the subject of any formal consultation and we have been advised of the increase a matter of days before it is to take place. I have been able to advise my clients at the very last minute of the increase to enable them to issue their divorces as a matter of urgency to avoid paying the increased fee; however such last minute advice can create further anxiety in an already emotionally difficult situation.
It was only a couple of years ago that the fee was increased from £345 to £410, and that had an impact on couples who are planning to proceed to formalise their separation through divorce. The court fee is for many people a major factor for consideration, when a decision to proceed to divorce is being made. There are many financial implications that flow from the decision to separate and divorce and this significant hike in the court fee may lead many to reconsider or delay their decision to divorce.
The Judiciary and some support groups, particularly support for women, have raised concern that this large increase may lead to some women feeling financially trapped in a violent or controlling marriage. For many people, the need to be legally separated from an abusive spouse is an important step that can only be achieved through the formal legal process of divorce. This step can have emotional significance that triggers the ability to move on from a relationship that may have been controlling or abusive.
It is disappointing that the fee has been increased so significantly, so quickly after the previous increase and with such little notice to the court users. The cost to the court of processing a divorce is in the region of £270, and therefore the court is making significant profit when charging a fee of £550.
It is clear that the cost of divorce is a major factor when considering how to finalise a separation. There are many other factors to consider and we always advise clients to make an appointment with one of our specialist family solicitors who can advise of the options available to each client, and advise in relation to the cost of each option.