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Divorce Petition Court Fee – A Tax On Divorce?

The Justice Select Committee has this week urged the Ministry of Justice to rescind the increase in divorce petition court fees from £410 to £550 which came into effect in March, earlier this year. The increase largely went under the radar as it was brought in with very short notice and was somewhat overshadowed by substantial increases in civil Court fees which had come into effect shortly beforehand.

The Justice Select Committee has now considered the increase and published a report on court fees generally. As, perhaps, some would have expected, the Committee has been highly critical of the increase noting that:

“with the average cost of proceedings standing at £270 in January 2015, the fee of £410 was already an enhanced fee. A further increase to £550, which is approximately double the cost to the Courts of providing the service, is unjustified.”

The Committee then went further, stating that:

“It cannot be right that a person bringing a divorce petition, in most cases a woman, is subject to....effectively a divorce tax.”

With the creation of regional divorce centres in February 2015, it is likely that the £270 figure (calculated in January 2015) is somewhat inaccurate now. However, it seems highly improbable that the cost of setting up and maintaining the regional divorce centre infrastructure could amount to an additional £32.1 million per year; this figure being the ‘tax’ element on the divorce petition court fee*. It would therefore appear that at least part of the current Court fee is, effectively, a divorce tax.

Whether or not the Ministry of Justice will act on the content of the report remains to be seen; it may be the case that the current fee of £550 remains in place despite the somewhat damning report from the Justice Select Committee. In any event, it would at least seem that any further increases are now out of the question. This is welcome news given that the Ministry of Justice was considering an increase to £750 only a few months ago.

*This figure being calculated on the basis of a Petitioner paying a court fee of £550, of which £270 represents the true cost and £280 is the ‘tax’ element, on the basis of approximately 114,720 divorces per year (based on ONS divorce figures from 2013)

Posted in: Family

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