Fee for lodging divorce petition rising from £410 to £550, but critics say actual cost is £270 and MoJ is making 100% profit
The price of getting divorced will soar by 34% from Monday as the Ministry of Justice raises its fees to pay for the overall cost of administering justice.
The increase, from £410 to £550, is unlikely to deter many of those determined to separate, but it has provoked anger among family lawyers who say the amount is far higher than the actual cost of the legal procedure.
Although the rise was anticipated, no date for its introduction has been given. The MoJ denied the measure has been rushed in. The additional income is to boost funding for the justice system which may face further cuts following the latest budget.
Every divorce petition has to go through the courts. Commenting on the rise Jo Edward, a solicitor and chair of Resolution, the family law organisation, said: “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 reality, won’t have time to get their petition in before the fee increase takes effect.
“Divorce is … a necessary part of the legal process to bring a relationship to an end. Whether people mediate, negotiate their own outcome or go to court, they have to pay the divorce petition fee. The actual cost of the administrative process has been shown to be £270, meaning that at new rates the MoJ is making a profit of more than 100% – in effect, levying a divorce tax.
“The 34% increase may lead to people unable to afford the fee remaining legally and financially tied to their former partner long after the relationship has ended.
“Increasing fees will disproportionately impact women, who constitute two-thirds of those initiating divorce proceedings. The extent of the rise could, as the judiciary and others have warned, lead to women being trapped in unhappy or violent marriages.”
Toby Hales, a partner in the family team at the law firm Seddons, said: “The 34% hike in divorce fees is yet another example of a government with a total lack of regard for the fundamental right of equal access to justice. The figures seem to be pulled from thin air and only serve to limit access to a court system that faces increasingly unmanageable levels of demand.
“The hike demonstrates an utter disdain for the individual within the divorce process, as well as contempt for governmental transparency – a lack of impact assessment or announcement underlines this.”
In January, Sir James Munby, the judge in charge of the family courts, asked the justice select committee: “Can we continue putting fees up until it becomes another poll tax on wheels? Those who want to divorce will probably still do so through gritted teeth but it doesn’t mean you can keep on putting up the fees.”
By comparison, he said, it cost around £100 to register a marriage. “People will see that it doesn’t cost six or eight times as much to get divorced as it does to get married.”
One of the first legal services to go online under government modernisation plans, he pointed out, was likely to be divorce. “It won’t take long to work out that the cost of administering it online is a fiction,” he added.
The MoJ said that in some cases there is a remission scheme to help those who cannot afford to pay the full fees.
This article was written by Owen Bowcott Legal affairs correspondent, for theguardian.com on Thursday 17th March 2016 18.25 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010