The Government has been contemplating increasing Court fees for some time now, the rational being that the court system should help to pay for itself. However, the analysis of the actual administrative cost may be somewhat lower than the new figures for fee rises would suggest.
From a Family Law perspective, the most significant fee change will impact on divorce. A divorce petition issue fee will increase by a dramatic 34%, taking the fee from £410 to £550.
There has been much opposition to this yet the Government has been notably unresponsive – until this week.
Information started to trickle out via emails from local Courts indicating that the petition issue fee will be brought into effect from Monday 21st March. This was notice of less than two working days!
For those clients currently going through divorce proceedings, unless they have already made a definite decision and their papers and marriage certificates were available and ready to go by the end of the week, then they will be caught by this increase. This means that they will have to find an additional £140, money they did not think they were going to have to pay previously.
Many clients would also have been given advice, correct at the time, by their solicitor of the appropriate fees payable to the court to start their proceedings.
Court fees are an unavoidable tax against a captive market. If you want the divorce, or a dissolution of civil partnership, then you have to pay the fee. To slide this out during the latter part of this week, when media attention has been focused upon the budget, raises my suspicion as to whether such tactics were a deliberate ploy.
Undoubtedly the Courts will be eager to collect the additional £140 payments from people who did not know this was coming and had no warning to plan accordingly.
The timing may also cause further conflict. For example, if a person was hoping to start divorce proceedings on the basis of two years separation and consent and the two year mark fell beyond the 21st March, then there might be pressure to issue a petition straight away on unreasonable behaviour rather than wait for the two years. That can only have the effect of creating unnecessary bitterness and acrimony when in a two year separation divorce there would have been no need to make any reference at all to the reasons for the separation to introduce controversial matters.
This is not a matter of a few pounds but a very significant impact upon the budget of a client who is seeking to start divorce proceedings.