Will court fee increase in family courts negatively impact access to justice?

When a relationship ends, those that are married or in a civil partnership have no option but to issue a divorce application if they want to legally formalise their separation. Along with the divorce application, separating couples may also need to pay for a financial order application and a parental order application. Here, Fiona Wood looks at the recent announcement that there will be an increase to all court fees in 2024, and raises the concern that low income households may find themselves unable to make necessary family applications.

If a couple do decide to divorce, as well as issuing a divorce applicaition, they also need to obtain a financial settlement which needs to be approved by a judge if it is to be binding and enforceable. Even if the separation is amicable, a court fee is payable when a divorce application is made and a court fee is payable when a financial agreement is submitted to court for a judge’s approval.

A court fee is also payable by separated parents if they are unable to agree arrangements for their children and need to make an application to court (known as a Parental Order application) to ask a judge to assist them with this issue.

If there are ongoing proceedings regarding finances or children, there can be additional smaller court fees that have to be paid within the court process.

You may be exempt from these fees if you have limited or no income and little or no savings. However, many of those making family court applications have to pay these fees.

The court fees were last increased in September 2021. It has recently been announced that there will be an increase of 10% in all court fees in 2024, including those in family cases. The date for the fee increase has not yet been announced. The main court fees in family proceedings are as follows:

  • Divorce application – current fee £593 – new fee £652
  • Financial Order application (if finances not agreed) – current fee £275 – new fee £303
  • Financial Order application (if agreed) – current fee £53 – new fee £58
  • Parental order application – current fee £232 – new fee £255

The rationale for the increase is that the court fees are needed to help fund the court system. We are told that in 2022/2023 cost £2.3 billion to fund the court system and £727 million of this was funded from court fees. As the cost of running the court system increases the fees are increased to assist with this cost.

Whilst it is understandable that money needs to be raised to fund that court system, there is a concern that increasing the court fees will prevent many on low incomes from making necessary family court applications.

Legal fees for those who have separated and who need to make an application asking court regarding finances or arrangements for their children, are a struggle for many who have limited income or savings. Legal Aid is only available in very limited circumstances to deal with the legal issues that can arise when a relationship ends. To qualify for Legal Aid not only must you have very limited income and capital, but there must also have been recent domestic violence.

For those of limited means who do not qualify for Legal Aid, many have no option but to represent themselves within the court process. The number of case where both spouses/cohabitees represent themselves within family court proceedings has increased by 25% between 2013 and 2022, which shows how many are struggling with funding the court process. Increasing the court fees will only make this more difficult for them and could leave some unable to afford access to the family court.

If you or someone you know is affected by the issues raised in this blog post, we can provide you with expert legal advice. For more information, please get in touch with our specialist team at hello@mcalisterfamilylaw.co.uk


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