The government should not see divorce as a profit centre.
News that divorce fees have soared by 34% took family practitioners by surprise. Although it wasn’t completely unexpected (the government had said the fees would go up), the short notice and lack of publicity around when the fees would be introduced caught many unaware.
Some family lawyers found out about the increase only through a few lines at the end of letters from divorce units. Some were not told at all. On Friday, the GOV.UK website showed fee levels of £410 with no warning that they were to rise to £550 today.
Aside from the way it has been introduced, from the start family lawyers have fiercely opposed the increase. The cost of administering a divorce has been estimated at around £270, less than half the new fee level.
As Resolution told the House of Commons justice select committee last December, the new fees are unjustified and amount to a tax on divorce.
I have tried to look at it from the other side. As it was pointed out to me earlier, the idea of a tax on divorce is not necessarily an absurd proposition. Other than the need to raise revenue, taxes are often targeted at activities the government seeks to discourage. This is why we get taxes on cigarettes and alcohol, and why we get tax breaks for married couples.
I do not feel comfortable with the idea of pricing couples out of divorce
A tax on divorce fits into this concept. Few think that divorce is a good thing. Many single-parent households are poor, and research has shown that children from divorced homes do worse academically.
But in reality, while no one would welcome divorce, I do not feel comfortable with the idea of pricing couples out of divorce. As others have pointed out, this could leave people unable to escape from violent or unhappy marriages.
The Ministry of Justice has said that it does not expect the fees will discourage divorce. But if that is not the aim, what reasons can there be for hitting separating couples with extra fees? Divorce is costly and unpleasant enough without heightening fees. What's more, the £410 charge more than covered the administrative cost.
The court system does need to be funded, but I do not think it is justified to make people unlucky to be going through a divorce foot the bill.
At best it will add to an already costly process; at worst the fees could leave some people trapped in abusive relationships.
Chloe Smith is a Gazette reporter