A steep rise in court fees would constitute a ‘tax on divorce’ and is unjustified in relation to the cost of proceedings, the chair of family law organisation Resolution has told MPs.
At a House of Commons justice committee hearing on court fees, Jo Edwards said that whereas other court users have a choice about whether to go to court and pay the associated fees, divorcing couples will have to pay the higher fee even if they opt for mediation.
‘This is not an optional fee, this has to be paid come what may,’ she said.
When compared to the administrative cost of the divorce process, around £270, the proposed £550 court fee represents a ‘significant profit’, Edwards added. The fee to start a divorce is currently set at £410 but the government signalled its intention to raise this by a third in July.
Ministers had earlier considered raising the cost of issuing proceedings by as much as 80% to £750, but scaled this back after 'carefully considering' concerns.
‘This is all against a backdrop of quite a rapid move in family proceedings towards a very much more administrative process […] so if anything I would expect that the cost of the divorce process is going down,’ she added.
Edwards also warned that increasing fees could lead to satellite litigation over which partner would bear the costs burden, wasting judicial time.
Edwards said the fee ‘sends out the wrong signal’. She likened it to the situation in Australia where a rise in court fees from A$845 to $1,200 was branded a ‘divorce tax’.
Giving evidence at the same hearing, Anthony Abrahams, director general of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, warned that higher fees in commercial cases could negatively affect the international competitiveness of the UK legal market.
Court fees are not currently a determining factor for people when choosing a forum to resolve disputes, said Abrahams. But he warned that if the government opts for one proposal floated - setting fees at 5% of a claim without any cap - fees would become a ‘major factor’.
‘The problem is if we start pushing the prices up here, people will opt for cheaper locations,’ he said.