Since the 30th September 2021, a number of court fees have increased, following a consultation carried out by the Ministry of Justice earlier this year. They consulted 89 individuals working in the legal or public sector and members of the public as well. Despite a 61% opposition from those consulted, certain fees have risen by almost 8%, such as the fee for applying for a divorce which has now gone from a cost of £550 to £593.
The government justified this by stating that the ‘proposed increases reflect historic inflation and are therefore not an increase in real terms’ and have also justified this with the estimate that about £20-£25m of the gains made through the increases will be used directly to fund the running costs of HMCTS. With a great deal of delays and staff shortages relating to the pandemic, added funding to the courts is certainly welcome, however many who oppose the fee changes argue that it is not substantial enough to justify the increased costs. Especially for those who can barely afford to fund legal services to begin with.
At any time, an increase in court fees will always impact those who are less well off. However, in the midst of a pandemic and with many still struggling after many months in lockdown over the last year and a half, those who oppose this change argue that it is simply not the right time to increase the fees. In fact, many of those amongst the supporters of the fee increase are of the position that it may be correct in principle, but in practice it is badly timed considering many people are still recovering from the financial strain of the pandemic.
Due to the increases, the cost for applying for a divorce is now £593. This is not the only cost that is involved, especially if the financial element of the divorce is contested by the parties. As a result, it can be complex to estimate the overall or even the average cost of a divorce. Depending on the amount of assets and the relationship between the parties, it is possible that both individuals could be paying an amount ranging from over a thousand pounds to potentially tens of thousands of pounds.
Unfortunately, there is no guaranteed way of ensuring that divorce costs are kept beneath a certain level. But in certain situations, if the parties are amicable and there is nothing to be contested in the finances, then the costs involved will include the court fee and the solicitor’s fees for the initial advice and the work involved in filing the application.
If there is a high chance that there will not be an agreed settlement and the parties will need to enter court proceedings to settle the finances ahead of the divorce being finalised, then it may be in both parties’ interests to seek mediation before this takes place. This allows for an opportunity to find some common ground, or to come to a final agreement about the settlement without the need for expensive costs associated with going to court. Recently, a voucher scheme has been introduced which offers £500 towards the costs of mediation, where the mediation involves disputes over children, whether this is relating to child arrangements or finances. Similarly, arbitration can also offer a lower cost alternative to going to court. It allows the parties to reach an agreement whilst being legally represented, without the pressure of court proceedings and minimizing the number of hearings involved, thus mitigating the costs to an extent.
In any case, for a clear understanding of your options in terms of funding and the overall process before embarking upon divorce proceedings, it is crucial to have received expert legal advice so that you can make the best decisions for your future.