Divorce fee set to increase to over £500
The Ministry of Justice has announced that court fee for divorce will rise by a third. In an attempt to close the £1bn gap between what Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service receives in funding and what it spends, the service is trying to push up revenue amid news that several courts are to face closure. The courts minister Shailesh Vara outlined to the Justice Select Committee that the courts are running at an unsustainable level.
The Government’s initial proposal, announced in 2013, was to see court costs rise from £410 to £750, but having “carefully considered” concerns from court users the MOJ lowered the rise to a third bringing the total to £550. Mr Vara also assured that the most vulnerable would not have to pay and the current fee remission scheme would be made more generous to those who would otherwise struggle financially.
The fee increase applies to any proceedings which are started using Form D8, so includes divorce, for heterosexual and same sex couples, annulments and judicial separation.
So what does that mean for those coming before the divorce courts?
Money is understandably a big worry during a divorce, and for the majority of people their financial situation will change during and following their divorce. Separating can be burdensome enough and adapting to a new way of life takes a toll; the increased fee certainly won’t help to alleviate that.
It is important to consider that not everyone can afford a divorce and if there are children or contested financial matters, then it can be an expensive process. In England and Wales legal aid is no longer available for the court costs of a divorce unless domestic violence or a child abduction have occurred. Means-tested funds are available for mediation but nothing else. The Money Advice Service, a public body which gives financial advice, says:
“Ideally, you should have enough savings or income to pay your solicitor’s fees, but this may not be realistic for many”
What results from the fee increases and legal aid cuts is people may end up being legally bound to someone they no longer love, stuck in unhappy marriages, having to save to fund a divorce. A fundamental principle of justice is that the public must have access to it and we cannot get into the habit of closing it off from those who need it the most.
by Lewis Sweeney
This article was written by Lewis Sweeney, a guest blogger of Grayfords.
Lewis is a law student who studies at the University of Westminster.
He is in the process of completing his LLB and has aspirations of becoming a barrister.