Court fee increases: What does this mean for the family court system?

For years now, the family court system has been underfunded and under resourced. This has led to the vast majority of family court users experiencing difficulties – whether it be having to wait the best part of a year for a hearing date, learning that a hearing has taken place without you knowing because of an administrative error, or even a hearing being moved the day before it was due to take place (and the parties, if represented, wasting many thousands of pounds in preparing for that hearing). 

For this reason, the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), which presumably can’t escape the severe challenges of the family court experience, has decided to raise the fees that apply to family court applications. Such an increase last took place in 2021, and it could be said that, given how the cost of everything else in that three-year period has increased so significantly, the MOJ has been slow to make the change.

What does this mean in practice? 

Essentially, anyone asking the court to make an order regarding a family law issue will have to pay the court more than they did previously – as of 1 May 2024, when the change comes into effect. If anyone considering such an application wants to save money, they should take steps to ensure the application is processed before that date. However, as seen from the details below, the increases are relatively small and pale in significance to the legal costs that might be incurred in any event.

It is also worth reiterating that the fee for beginning a divorce is not being increased despite the consultation paper concluding that the existing fee of £593 does not likely cover the administrative cost of processing the divorce. 

A list of the fees that are changing for perhaps more common applications is summarised below, but a full list of the changes can be found on the government website consultation response: implementing increases to selected court and tribunal fees

  • Application for financial order upon a divorce which is contested: £275 to £303
  • Application for the court to approve a financial order (consent order) upon a divorce which has been agreed: £53 to £58
  • Application for an order setting out the living arrangements for a child - colloquially often referred to as “custody”: £232 to £255
  • Application for a prohibited steps order (i.e. preventing a parent from taking unilateral steps concerning a child) or specific issue order (i.e. requiring a parent to take specific steps regarding a child): £232 to £255

The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) has estimated that the fee changes will raise between £30-37 million extra per annum, which, at the very least, gives an indication of how many applications are made each year. 

Whilst many will feel that the government raising prices now, when the cost of living is already so high, is unfair and creates a further barrier to accessing justice, there can be no denying that the family court needs additional funding—and it is hoped the increased sums raised will be spent well, to the benefit of all court users.

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Senior Associate, Families and Divorce, Bishop's Stortford office

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