What is a Decree Nisi?

19 Oct 2021 | Claire Andrews

In England and Wales, there are three key stages to the divorce process

  1. The Divorce Petition
  2. The Decree Nisi
  3. The Decree Absolute

This article takes a look at the Decree Nisi, the midway stage in divorce proceedings, and explains why it’s an important milestone in your divorce.

What is a Decree Nisi?

A Decree Nisi is the first important order you’ll encounter in your divorce proceedings. It confirms that the court does not see any reason why you cannot get divorced. This means that one of the reasons or ‘grounds’ for divorce has been established, and all the legal requirements to obtain a divorce have been met. 

Why is the Decree Nisi important?

On its own, the Decree Nisi is not enough to bring the marriage to an end. Rather, it states that you can now move towards the Decree Absolute. This is the final part of the divorce process and confirms that you are officially divorced. 

However, the Decree Nisi is important when dealing with the financial aspects of a divorce.

Usually, a couple will be negotiating a financial agreement at the same time as they are managing the legal aspects of the divorce. Even if you have reached a financial agreement, the court cannot approve it until the Decree Nisi has been pronounced. 

How do I apply for a Decree Nisi?

You do not get a Decree Nisi automatically – the Petitioner has to apply for the Decree Nisi via the online portal. This can only be done once your spouse has responded to the divorce petition and confirmed they do not contest the divorce. 

A judge will then decide if a Decree Nisi can be granted. If everything is approved, the court will issue a Certificate of Entitlement providing the date on which the Decree Nisi will be read out in open court. 

You will not need to go to court for the Decree Nisi pronouncement in most cases.   

What happens after the Decree Nisi?

Six weeks and 1 day (43 days) after the date of the Decree Nisi, the Petitioner can apply for the Decree Absolute. This is the document that formally ends the marriage. The time is to allow the parties to reflect of their decision to divorce.

Read more about Decree Absolute.

Sometimes, it makes sense to delay applying for a Decree Absolute. This usually happens where you haven’t agreed a financial settlement yet.

It is common for the Petitioner to promise that they will not apply for Decree Absolute until all the financial issues have been resolved. This is to ensure that spousal rights to pensions and other benefits are protected, as a Decree Absolute will dissolve the marriage and you are no longer a ‘spouse’.

It should be noted the divorce process is changing and the new ‘no fault divorce’ legislation coming into effect. The Government have suggested an implementation date of Spring 2022. 

There will still be the two stage divorce process however, the Decree Nisi will be called a Conditional Divorce Order and the Decree Absolute will be called a Final Divorce Order.

The six week and 1 day time lapse from Decree Nisi to Decree Absolute will remain in place but in addition, there must also be no less than 20 weeks from the start of the divorce process (i.e. submitting the divorce petition online) to the date that you can apply for Decree Nisi (or the Conditional Divorce Order as it will be called).

Overview

  • Decree Nisi (soon to be referred to as the Conditional Divorce Order) is a certificate confirming that you are legally entitled to divorce
  • It must be in place before a financial order can be made
  • You are still legally married after the Decree Nisi  
  • When the Decree Nisi has been granted, you will have to wait a further 43 days before you can apply for the Decree Absolute (the Final Divorce Order)
  • Once the new legislation is in place you must ensure there is no less than 20 weeks from the date you submit the divorce petition to when you apply for Decree Nisi.

Claire Andrews is a specialist divorce lawyer with a particular emphasis on complex high net worth divorces often involving a trust element.  She is also featured in The Legal 500 as a recommended lawyer.

To speak with Claire, please call, or complete an online enquiry form.

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