The Judiciary of England and Wales has criticised government plans to raise court fees for divorce to £750.
“Almost certainly, the suggestion would act as a significant impediment to access to justice for many individuals. The great majority of petitioners are women. Many of them will be of limited means, but not entitled to fee remission and the new fee will be unattainable.”
Such women may abandon plans to divorce following the increase in divorce costs, and instead set up homes with new partners while still remaining married to official husbands, the response claims.
“Thus, they would lose the many financial and other protections afforded to married women under the existing law. The proposal, therefore, might give rise to an objection that it is indirectly discriminatory because most of the petitioners are women, and because the impact of price increases would affect them disproportionately.”
The Judiciary of England and Wales includes judges and magistrates.
The government consultation notes that a fee of £750 would be around three times the actual cost of an average divorce. Even the current fee of £410 already exceeds the administrative costs of an undefended divorce (£270).
The Judiciary said:
“ We recognise that it would be not be feasible in the present climate for the Government to reduce the fee to its actual value and to forfeit this revenue of just under £17 million (which equates to more than 10 per cent of the direct judicial costs of the civil justice system as a whole (£161 million)).”
The fee increase would raise an additional £40.8 million, and not £30 million as stated by the consultation paper, the Judiciary response noted.
The government consultation on divorce costs also contains a “misconception”, it said.
“The justification for the proposal is set out in paragraph 187 of the Consultation Paper: ‘We believe that divorcing couples would be prepared to pay a higher fee to complete the dissolution of the marriage. We believe that it is right that those who can afford to pay more should do so to ensure that the courts are properly funded.’There appears to be a misconception that the fee is paid by the divorcing couple. It is paid by the petitioner…”
The response continued:
“In any event, the Consultation Paper advances no evidence either (a) to justify the belief that divorcing couples would be prepared to pay a higher fee to complete the dissolution of the marriage, or (b) to justify the assertion that the captive divorcing market “can afford to pay more”. Nor does it explain why it is right that those who can afford to pay more should do so to ensure that the courts are properly funded. We question whether it is appropriate that this particular sector of the litigating community should assume so large a responsibility to fund the courts properly, rather than the general taxpayer.”