The much publicised new changes to the Family Courts and the single combined registry have now been in operation for a couple of weeks now. From our own experience we have found they generally appear to be working well. However, what is less well-known is that there were some other significant changes to court fees, mediation requirements and hearing procedure. This blog summarises the reforms.
Court fees have, in general, risen with some fees rising over the rate of inflation. For example, the cost of a divorce petition has risen from £385 to £410 with the cost of a financial application experiencing a similar above-inflation fee hike (£240 to £255). This will no doubt continue to fuel ongoing debates as to whether the courts are funding improvements through their fees. Whatever viewpoint is taken, the fact remains that cost of just the divorce and financial proceedings stands at £655 purely to issue with or without lawyers involved.
Costs have also been further increased with new regulations on court bundles. These require legal representatives to prepare a bundle of documents for every court hearing in the Family Division. Previously the requirement only extended to hearings over an hour in length. Whilst this will save judicial time it will lead to a great deal of extra preparation for the solicitors involved and a rise in copying costs for their clients.
Some comfort may be gained from a cost-perspective by the court’s continued emphasis that the parties should, except in exceptional circumstances, attend mediation prior to filing Children Act proceedings. This continues the policy regularly and consistently espoused by the Family Court of parties trying to resolve their differences before immediately litigating. In many cases mediation can be cost-effective and does result in a settlement. On the other hand, where parties are plainly opposed in principle, it may be regarded as just another hurdle and/or wasted cost. It will be interesting to see and review the statistics on the effectiveness of mediation and/or how often sessions are in fact attended in the next year or so after these latest reforms.
Other changes include the change of terminology in Children Act proceedings which we have written about previously and is now in effect.