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Emotionally charged: costs on divorce and dissolution

The implementation of the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 (DDSA) will remove the elements of divorce that have been shown to provoke, or exacerbate, conflict between separating couples. While this is welcome, it raises questions about payment of the cost of the divorce process, including the £550 court (petition) fee and any legal fees, according to new analysis from the Finding Fault study, led by Professor Liz Trinder and funded by the Nuffield Foundation.

The study uses data relating to costs collected in 2015-2017 under the existing divorce law to consider the implications for the new legal framework for costs when the DDSA comes into force in April 2022. This analysis is presented in Emotionally charged: costs on divorce and dissolution.

The report identifies multiple problems with how the current costs regime operates in practice. These include costs not being equally accessible to all petitioners, a decision-making process that is procedurally unfair to respondents, and exacerbation of conflict between divorcing couples.

Many of these difficulties can be attributed to the fault-based premise of current practice, but removing fault may not resolve all of them. There is, according to the study, evidence that whether and how people claim for costs can reflect moral judgements and attribution of blame between the parties and does not always map neatly onto the five facts. In addition, for some people, the £550 cost of the divorce petition puts extreme pressure on family finances post-separation, regardless of whether costs were claimed or awarded.

In light of this, the report makes a number of recommendations:

For the report, click here.