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The Difference Between Decree Nisi and Decree Absolute

A Decree Nisi and Decree Absolute are each a single, unassuming sheet of paper. However, each has its own significant legal consequences, and they are both essential, chronological steps in becoming divorced. Both require an application to be made to the Court and are formally granted by a Judge of the Family Division.  But what is the difference between Decree Nisi and Decree Absolute? And why are there two stages to pass through before becoming divorced?  

These are some of the questions which may be asked by someone considering – or already going through – a divorce. 

What is a Decree Nisi?

A Decree Nisi in divorce proceedings, or Conditional Order in the case of civil partnerships, is an order made by a Judge of the Family Court, It is made following an application by the Petitioner in a divorce after they have issued an initial divorce petition and – usually – after a response has been received from the other party (the Respondent).

‘Nisi’ is a Latin word meaning ‘unless’. The Decree Nisi is granted after the Judge has looked over all of the documentation provided, checked for any objections or issues, and decides that the divorce should be granted in principle.

What does a Decree Nisi look like?

A Decree Nisi, and also the final Decree Absolute, is simply a single, unassuming, sheet of A4 paper. It will name the parties, the Court which has made the Decree and the case number. It specifies the date and place of the marriage and the fact (unreasonable behaviour, adultery, two or five years’ separation or desertion) which has been relied upon to support the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage or civil partnership.

How long does it take to receive a Decree Nisi?

In principle, a Decree Nisi can be obtained very quickly if both parties complete the documents required and send them to the Court promptly. However, due to the backlog of cases currently before the Courts, there can be significant delays. In most cases, the Decree Nisi is obtained between 3-6 months after the initial divorce petition is sent to the Court.

Why would a Decree Nisi be refused?

When completing the Acknowledgement of Service, the Respondent has the opportunity to declare whether they agree to the divorce or not. If they don’t agree to the divorce proceeding then it is likely that the court will list the matter for a short hearing to discuss the case, and a Judge will decide whether the Decree Nisi should be granted or not.

The court can also refuse to grant the Decree Nisi due to one of the following:

  • Jurisdiction details – the court has judged that the divorce application doesn’t fall within the jurisdiction of England and Wales;
  • The court is not satisfied that the scanned copy of the marriage certificate attached to the application is a true copy of the original;
  • The translation of the marriage certificate is insufficient;
  • The application doesn’t meet the criteria – the application doesn’t meet the criteria for the fact relied on;
  • Insufficient details – the court has judges that the application doesn’t demonstrate that the marriage has irretrievably broken down.

In all situations, the court will provide details on how any issues can be rectified so that the divorce can proceed.

Can the Respondent stop the divorce after Decree Nisi?

As the Decree Nisi doesn’t finalise the divorce, it is possible for it to be stopped. However, a divorce can only be stopped if both parties provide consent for that to happen.

Either party can apply to the court to ask for the Decree Nisi to be rescinded, but the court will only do so and grant the application if the other party agrees.

Does Decree Nisi expire?

There is no expiry date for a Decree Nisi. However, if the application to make the Nisi Absolute is made more than 12 months after the date that the Decree Nisi was pronounced (for example, if the Decree Nisi was pronounced on 09 August 2020 and the application for Decree Absolute was made on or after 10 August 2021), the court will want an explanation for the delay and confirmation that the parties haven’t had any more children together. The most common reason for delaying the application for Decree Absolute is to allow time for financial matters to be resolved.

What happens after Decree Nisi is granted?

After the Decree Nisi is granted there is a period in which any final objections to the divorce can be raised before it is finalised. This means that the Petitioner cannot apply for the Decree Absolute until six weeks and a day have passed from the date of the Decree Nisi.

If the Petitioner has asked for their costs to be paid by the Respondent, the Court will make an Order for Costs which will be issued alongside the Decree Nisi.

Do I have to pay for Decree Nisi?

There is no fee for applying for Decree Nisi, it is covered in the court fee of £550 that is paid when the divorce petition is sent to the court.

Can I remarry with a Decree Nisi?

No, you can’t. Decree Nisi does not bring your current marriage to an end, it merely states that the court has confirmed that you are entitled to a divorce, so technically you are still married at this stage. Only once the Decree Absolute has been pronounced is the marriage dissolved and you are free to marry again.

What is a Decree Absolute?

A Decree Absolute is the final stage of the divorce. It irreversibly ends the marriage. For civil partnerships, it is called a Dissolution Order.

It is made after an application by one of the parties, usually the Petitioner, once the requisite period has passed since the Decree Nisi.

The Court has discretion whether or not the grant the Decree Absolute and can refuse to grant it where an application has been made by the Respondent and the Court sees fit to delay the Decree so as to allow for financial provision to be made for him/her (Section 10 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973).

The Court also has power under the Divorce (Religious Marriages) Act 2002 to refuse to grant the Decree Absolute until arrangements for a religious divorce have been made. If either of the above do not apply, the Court can still refuse to grant the Decree Absolute at its discretion where it considers there are ‘special and exceptional’ circumstances.

What does a Decree Absolute look like?

A Decree Absolute, again, specifies the names of the parties, the Court and case number. It states the date and place of the marriage or civil partnership and states that the marriage is dissolved.

It contains notes, designed to inform persons who do not have the assistance of a lawyer, of the legal effects of divorce. Those effects come into place once the Decree Absolute is granted and includes inheritance under a Will.

When do I apply for Decree Absolute?

It is recommended that Decree Absolute is applied for once the financial matters in the divorce have been resolved by way of an Order of the Court.

If the Petitioner delays making the application, the Respondent can apply for Decree Absolute from three months after the date which the Petitioner was able to apply for Decree Absolute (i.e. four and a half months after the granting of Decree Nisi).

How do I apply for Decree Absolute?

The application is a simple one and can be found on the Government website.

If over a year has passed since the date of the Decree Nisi, the Petitioner will need to annex to their application a statement explaining why there has been a delay, confirm that they have not lived with the other party since the date of the Decree Nisi and that, except for in same-sex marriages, the former wife is not pregnant.

If there is a reconciliation after Decree Nisi which does not work out and the parties later try to apply for Decree Absolute, it may be refused. In one case, a couple obtained their Decree Nisi but reconciled and lived together for a further four years. When the Petitioner applied for the Decree Absolute, it was refused and she had to start the process over again.

How long does Decree Absolute take after Decree Nisi?

Once the application has been made, there is usually a quick turnaround to when the Decree Absolute is received.

Can you challenge a Decree Absolute?

Once Decree Absolute has been granted by the court, the divorce and the marriage is over and it is too late to challenge it. Only in very rare and unusual circumstances will a Decree Absolute be rescinded, and this is usually where there is some sort of irregularity. If you wish to challenge the divorce, it needs to be done at the Decree Nisi stage.

Does a Decree Absolute have to be signed?

The application to the court that asks it to make the Decree Absolute needs to be signed by the party making the application. The Decree Absolute itself is not signed by either party to the divorce as it is a court issued document and therefore will have the court seal on it instead.

How long after Decree Absolute are you divorced?

As soon as Decree Absolute is pronounced, you are divorced. The courts are usually quite quick at turning around applications for Decree Absolute, but if it is being sent by post you may have been divorced for a day or two before you receive the Decree Absolute from the court. If the date on the Decree Absolute says that it was granted on 02 August, then that is the date that you are divorced.

When to delay applying for Decree Absolute

It is a good idea to delay until financial matters are resolved before applying for Decree Absolute. This is because divorce impacts pension benefits, Wills and guardian elections amongst other things.

Do I need to keep my Decree Absolute?

A Decree Absolute is a legal document and the original is required if you are going to remarry. It is also required to obtain a passport in a maiden name.

How do I get a copy of my Decree Absolute if I have lost it?

It is possible to ask for a further, certified, copy of a Decree Absolute from the Court that granted it. You may need to advise the Court of the date on which the Decree Absolute was granted and the case number. Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) policy directs that key documents be retained for 100 years and, therefore, in most cases, it should be a simple process to obtain a copy from them. However, this should not be relied on and therefore it is important that it is kept in a safe place.

How much does a Decree Absolute cost?

The fee for the Decree Absolute application is included in the initial court fee of £550 and no further payment is needed.

Hawkins Family Law are divorce specialists, meaning we have years of experience in relation to divorce, divorce settlements and any other associated family matters. If you are looking for reliable and accredited legal advice regarding your divorce or getting a divorce, speak to one of our team today.

Holly Warren

Having graduated in July 2017 with a first class honours degree in law from the University of Bedfordshire, Holly has since been exploring her interest in Family Law. She is currently undertaking her postgraduate LPC and masters course to qualify as a family solicitor. Holly joined Hawkins Family Law in August 2017. She has previously volunteered with public legal advice services and currently is enjoying a new challenge having recently begun a paralegal role at Hawkins Family Law.

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