The Government has recently announced that it intends to increase Court fees relating to divorce proceedings. The current fee, which is payable upon lodging a divorce petition with the Court, is £410. The proposal is to increase this to £550.
The Government’s plans have been met with opposition. Many people already struggle to pay legal fees and there are increasing numbers of litigants in person who are faced with the daunting task of conducting their legal proceedings themselves. It has been argued that the proposed increase in fees will further hinder access to justice. The Court fee is payable in one lump sum and divorce proceedings cannot be started without this initial payment being made. No consideration is given to the vastly different financial positions of those using the legal system, except for fee remissions where an individual is on such a low income the fee is remitted in part or in full. We are told that the Government does intend to protect those who are financially vulnerable by making the fee remission criteria more generous, but it is yet to be seen what sort of impact this will have generally on those using the system. For many other types of dispute, matters can be settled outside of Court via alternative dispute resolution (such as mediation or arbitration), but this is not the case for divorce. These proceedings must be dealt with by the Court. Those wishing to obtain a divorce therefore have no choice but to comply with the fee requirements put in place by the Government.
Anyone who has used the Court system will know that, for quite some time, its resources have been stretched. It is under huge financial strain, so it is no surprise that an injection of increased funds is required. The difficulty is that the proposal will penalise those who are already struggling to pay legal fees but whom do not quite satisfy the criteria for fee remission. If the proposal is indeed implemented then it is hoped that increased funds, together with other substantive changes currently being implemented, will result in a more efficient Court system.