What is a Decree Nisi and a Decree Absolute?

The decree nisi and decree absolute are the court orders that legally end a marriage. They still apply for divorces that started before 6 April 2022.

The decree nisi and decree absolute are the court orders that legally end a marriage.

New divorce legislation came into effect on 6 April 2022. And some of the divorce terminology and procedures have changed.

The decree nisi and decree absolute have been replaced with a conditional order and a final order.

However, if your divorce began before 6 April 2022, you’ll still have to apply for the decree nisi and decree absolute.

For more information, read our guide: No fault divorce: Everything you need to know.

Divorces that began before 6 April 2022

What is a decree nisi?

A decree nisi is an order given by the court when it believes that a marriage has broken down irreversibly. You remain married once it’s granted, but it means that your divorce can go ahead in principle.

You can only apply for a decree nisi after you've filed a petition for divorce.

There are five statement forms used as grounds for divorce:

 
When applying for a decree nisi you must state that what you said in your petition for divorce is true.

If your partner (the ‘respondent’) agrees to your petition, your application for a decree nisi can go ahead. If your partner doesn't agree to the divorce, you can still apply for a decree nisi, but you'll have to go to a court hearing. A judge will then decide whether you should be granted a decree nisi.

If your application is successful, the judge will send you a certificate of the decree. If it's rejected, you’ll receive a ‘notice of refusal of judge’s certificate’ form. This will explain why you can't get divorced.

You must wait six weeks and one day (43 days) before you can apply for a decree absolute. This officially ends the marriage. Crucially, you can only apply to the courts to sort out marital finances after you have received a decree nisi.

What is a decree absolute?

A decree absolute is a court’s final order which legally ends a marriage. This document means that you and your ex-partner are free to remarry.

The person who petitioned for divorce can apply for a decree absolute immediately after the 43-day period. However, the ‘respondent’ will have to wait 3 months before they can apply.

Importantly, a decree absolute doesn't end your financial obligations to your ex-spouse. Unless you have a financial order in place, financial obligations to your spouse don't automatically end after divorce.

Divorces that began after 6 April 2022

Conditional order

The first court order in the divorce process is now called a conditional order.

This can be applied for 20 weeks after you filed for divorce.

Like the decree nisi, you’ll remain married after the conditional order is granted. It simply means that your divorce can go ahead in principle.

Final order

The final order legally ends your marriage. Once it’s been granted, you’re officially ‘divorced’.

Like the decree absolute, the final order can only be applied for six weeks and one day after the granting of the conditional order.

Furthermore, the final order doesn’t stop your financial obligations to your spouse. To separate your finances, you’ll need to apply for a financial order.

Talk to a divorce solicitor

If you’re thinking about getting divorce, you should talk to a divorce solicitor.

The Law Superstore lets you compare family solicitors across England and Wales. Just type in a few details to compare prices and connect with professionals who’ll guide you through the divorce process. 

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Adam Rivers

Adam creates supportive, easy to read guides for The Law Superstore. He specialises in family law, helping people through divorce, child custody arrangements, and other relationship issues.

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