MoJ has change of heart on hiking £593 divorce application fee by 10%

The government has had a change of heart on raising divorce fees by 10% after being told higher fees could force couples to remain in unhappy or abusive relationships.

After announcing plans to raise up to £42m extra a year by increasing 202 court fees by 10%, the Ministry of Justice confirmed in a consultation response document published this week that 170 fees will be increased.

Divorce application fees will remain at £593. Consultation respondents raised concerns about the impact of a higher fee on access to justice and particularly on women, as they were more likely to apply for divorce than men. ‘They stated that women tend to face more difficulties when navigating the justice system as they may have caring responsibilities and are statistically more likely to be on lower incomes given the gender pay gap,’ the consultation response says.

The consultation respondents said a higher fee could force couples to remain in unhappy or abusive relationships

‘Several respondents also highlighted that applying for a divorce is a distress purchase for many, and that those who want to end their marriage have no choice but to go through the courts. One respondent quoted the comments made by former president of the family division of the High Court, Sir James Munby in the justice select committee’s 2016 report on divorce and probate, specifically that divorce involves a “captive market”, with “no elasticity in demand” and that those who want a divorce are being penalised for doing so because of high court fees.’

The ministry has also decided to routinely implement ‘smaller-scale’ inflation-based increases.

The response says: 'Although fee updates would be routinely made every two years, fees will continue to be assessed on a case-by-case basis to identify fluctuations in their cost, their suitability for an increase with regards to access to justice considerations, and changes to CPI [consumer price index]. Therefore, the fee increases delivered in 2024 will not set a precedent for any changes made in future; additionally, this approach does not preclude changes to fee levels being made outside of the proposed two-year routine.'

The higher fees will come into force in May.