Tax on divorcing couples: the divorce petition fee

As part of the government changes to court fees earlier this year, the divorce petition fee rose from £410 to £550. All divorce petitions submitted after 21 March 2016 were subject to this enhanced fee.

The fee increase did not come completely out of the blue, many commentators had been expecting a modest increase for some time. Despite the government’s suggestion of an increase to £750 back in January 2015, the scale of the increase in March 2016, led to calls of the fee being disproportionately unfair on low income families and particularly women, who bring the majority of divorce petitions.

Both Resolution and the President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, have been very critical of the rise in the divorce petition fee, given the Ministry of Justice’s estimate for the average cost of an uncontested divorce is £270. This has led many to argue that the cost of a divorce petition is essentially a tax on divorcing couples. Although it is accepted that the fees for making an application for financial proceedings or proceedings relating to children are much lower, many argue that the delivery of a justice service should be supported fully by the tax-payer, like the NHS, instead of being heavily subsidised by parties involved in litigation.

The Justice Select Committee investigated the rise in divorce fees and published its results on 20 June 2016. Within their recommendations, they proposed that the increase in divorce petition fee be rescinded.

Given the current turmoil facing the political class post-Brexit, it maybe that families are faced with the increase fee for some time to come. However, there is popular support from individuals and bodies representing families going through a relationship breakdown, noting that the fee as it stands, is too great a burden for many to bear. It may only be a matter of time before the fee is reconsidered.

If you want to discuss your divorce with one of our expert solicitors, contact us on 01234 889777 and take advantage of our free consultation service. Serving Bedford, Northampton and Milton Keynes, our lawyers can help you with your family law and divorce matters.

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