In This Post

I'll teach you EVERYTHING you need to know about the Decree Nisi and the Decree Absolute, such as:

  • What are the Decree Nisi and the Decree Absolute?
  • How and when should I apply?
  • How much does it cost?
  • And more.

Let's dive right in...

What Are The Decree Nisi And The Decree Absolute?

The Decree Nisi marks the midway point in the divorce process, and is the first formal Court order made during your divorce.  

When the Court grants Decree Nisi, it means a Judge has reviewed your divorce application, and has determined that you meet the requirements to be eligible for a divorce, ie:

The Decree Nisi stage is the first time that a Judge will actually see your divorce application (prior to this, your application is only processed administratively).

In essence, by granting the Decree Nisi, the reviewing Judge is saying that they cannot see any legal reason you should not get divorced, and are happy for your divorce application to proceed.

<ulheadingcentre>The 5 Grounds For Divorce<ulheadingcentre>
The 5 Grounds For Divorce
To be granted the Decree Nisi you must have satisfied one of the five grounds for divorce

The Decree Nisi does NOT end the marriage.

To formally end the marriage, you need the Decree Absolute...

The Decree Nisi does not end the marriage
The Decree Nisi does NOT end the marriage

The Decree Absolute

The Decree Absolute is the final Court order in the divorce process.

It DOES end the marriage.

It can be applied for a minimum of 6 weeks and 1 day after the Decree Nisi was granted. 

Provided no new reason has arisen to prevent your divorce during the six week period, the Judge will grant the Decree Absolute, meaning you are now formally divorced.

Why the six week wait?

Well, getting divorced is a pretty big deal. So this is the Court’s way of imposing a kind of ‘cooling off’ period, where, if you both change your mind, you can write to the Court asking them to cancel your divorce application. 

Once the Decree Absolute is granted, you are officially divorced, and free to remarry if you wish. 

<ulheadingcentre>The Decree Nisi Vs The Decree Absolute<ulheadingcentre>

The difference between the decree nisi and the decree absolute

One important thing to note…

The granting of the Decree Absolute formally ends your marriage, but it does not end your financial relationship with your former partner.

For that, you need a <bloglink>divorce settlement agreement.<bloglink>

These are separate processes, but can run side by side at the same time.

Top Tip:

The process for ending a civil partnership is exactly the same, but instead of using the old Latin phrases “Decree Nisi” and “Decree Absolute”, they are called the “Conditional order” and the “Final order”.

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Now you understand the difference between the Decree Nisi and the Decree Absolute, let’s look at each of them in some more detail…

How To Apply For The Decree Nisi

The Decree Nisi marks the midway point in the divorce process. 

Before applying for Decree Nisi, the person applying for the divorce (“the Petitioner”) must first have formally started the divorce process by completing the divorce petition.

You do this by completing the Form D8 online at: <bloglink>https://www.gov.uk/apply-for-divorce<bloglink>

Apply for a divorce online

Once you’ve submitted the divorce petition and have paid the divorce Court fee (£550), the Court will then send a copy of the petition to your partner (the “Respondent”). The Court will also include a reply form for the Respondent to complete, saying they either:

  • Agree to get divorced, or;
  • Object to the divorce

If they agree to the divorce, then you are free to go ahead and apply for the Decree Nisi.

The divorce process timeline

To get the Decree Nisi, you can either:

  1. Apply yourself 
  2. Use an online paid service
  3.  Use a solicitor

Applying For The Decree Nisi Yourself

To <bloglink>apply yourself<bloglink>, you have to submit the Decree Nisi application form (<bloglink>Form D84<bloglink>). This is a simple one page form where you compete Section A if the case is undefended, and the Court will issue the Decree Nisi without you having to attend in person.

You also need to complete and attach the Form D80 statement. There are 5 versions:

Simply use the one that covers the reason you gave for your divorce when you submitted the divorce petition. You should also attach a copy of your partner’s response to the divorce petition.

Applying for the Decree Nisi cannot be done online, as you need to print and physically sign both the Form D84 and the D80 statement, and then post them to the Court. You can find the name and address of the Court, along with your case number, on the paperwork you received after you <bloglink>applied for the divorce petition<bloglink>.

If your partner does object to the divorce, you CAN still apply for the Decree Nisi, but you will have to physically attend Court for a hearing. When completing the Form D80, you instead complete Section B saying that the case is defended, and tick the box asking the Court to arrange a case management hearing before a Judge.

Using An Online Service Or A Solicitor To Apply For The Decree Nisi

If this all seems a bit too much, you can use a paid online service or a solicitor to apply for Decree Nisi on your behalf.

Online divorce service
There are many online services that can now help process your divorce.

Either a solicitor or an online divorce service can complete the whole divorce process for you, and can also include options for arranging your <bloglink>divorce settlement.<bloglink>

A high street solicitor's office
The traditional option is to use a firm of family solicitors, as can be found on most high streets


When Can I Apply For The Decree Absolute?

When the Petitioner applies for the Decree Absolute:

After the Decree Nisi has been granted, the Petitioner is free to apply for the Decree Absolute a minimum of six weeks and 1 day later (the Decree Nisi certificate will tell you which date this falls on).

Image of a sand timer
When the Respondent applies for the Decree Absolute:

Occasionally, the Petitioner does not apply for the Decree Absolute; perhaps because they get cold feet about actually going through with the divorce. If this happens, then the Respondent can instead apply for the Decree Absolute, and make the divorce final. 

For the Respondent to apply, they must wait a minimum of 3 more months after the 6 weeks and 1 day “cooling off” period has passed (so a total of 4½ months since the Decree Nisi was granted). If the Petitioner has still not applied for Decree Absolute during this period, then the Respondent can instead apply. However, if the Respondent does apply, there will need to be a Court hearing before the Decree Absolute is granted.

When more than a year has passed since the Decree Nisi was granted:

You should normally apply for the Decree Absolute within a year of the Decree Nisi being granted.  
However, if more than a year has passed, either the Petitioner or the Respondent CAN still apply, but will need to go to Court for a hearing to explain the reasons for the delay. At the hearing the Judge will ask questions, such as whether you and your partner have lived together for more than six months since the Decree Nisi was granted, and whether either partner has had any new children during the period of delay.

Image of a watch

While you should avoid any unnecessary delay in applying for the Decree Absolute, it is often appropriate to delay if more time is needed to agree any financial settlement. In fact, the Court may actually refuse to grant Decree Absolute until any ongoing financial proceedings are concluded.

How To Apply For The Decree Absolute

First things first;

The Court will NOT automatically issue the Decree Absolute after the 6 week and 1 day cooling off period has passed.

You need to actually physically <bloglink>apply for it<bloglink>.

You do this by completing the simple one page application form (known as the <bloglink>Form D36<bloglink>). 

Form D36-Application for Decree Absolute
The Form D36- Application for Decree Absolute

Once they receive your application, the Court will check that the time limits have been complied with, and that no further objections have been raised by the Respondent. They will then issue the Decree Absolute, sending a copy to both the Petitioner and the Respondent. If it is the Petitioner applying, there will be no need to attend Court. If it’s the Respondent applying, there will need to be a short Court hearing before the Decree Absolute is granted.

Once the Decree Absolute is granted, you are then formally divorced, and free to remarry should you wish.

Top Tip:

Make sure to keep your original copy of the Decree Absolute safe - you will need to show it if you remarry or to prove your marital status.

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How Long Does It Take To Get The Decree Nisi And The Decree Absolute?

Unfortunately, this is like asking the question “how long is a piece of string”

There are a number of procedural steps, and the Courts are usually very busy, meaning there can often be delays.

However, as a rough guideline, an undefended divorce timeline may look something like this:

  1. The Petitioner files the online petition for divorce (Form D8).
  2. The petition is issued by the Court and sent to the Respondent. This can take the Court 3 to 4 weeks.
  3. After receiving the petition, the Respondent must file an Acknowledgment of Service with the Court within 7 days, saying whether or not they want to defend the divorce.
  4. If the Respondent does want to defend the divorce, they have a further 21 days to give an “Answer”. Ie they must write to the Court giving the reasons why they object to the divorce.
  5. Once either the Acknowledgement of Service or the Answer is received by the Court, the Petitioner can then apply for the Decree Nisi.
  6. Once the application for Decree Nisi is received, a Judge will consider all the evidence. Depending on how busy the Court is, this stage can take 3-4 months.
  7. After the review is complete, the Judge will confirm the date that the Decree Nisi will be granted (you will be sent a certificate giving the date).
  8. On that date, the Decree Nisi is “Pronounced” (ie formally read out in Court). At this point, you have been granted the Decree Nisi.
  9. A minimum of 6 weeks and 1 day after the Decree Nisi is Proununced, the Petitioner can then apply for the Decree Absolute.
  10. The Courts are quicker at granting the Decree Absolute, and it is usually Pronounced within a week of the application, and sent to you in the post within 2 to 3 weeks of it being Pronounced, Once the Decree Absolute is Pronounced, the process is complete and you are officially divorced.

So, 

You can see that, where the divorce is uncontested, the whole process can take approximately 6 months. 

If the divorce is contested, or there are ongoing divorce settlement negotiations, it can easily take over a year. 

It’s important to note that you cannot apply for divorce in first year of marriage (but you may be able to <bloglink>apply for annulment<bloglink>).

Can I Get A 'Quickie' Divorce?

Online divorce services have encouraged the idea that people can get a “Quickie” divorce- but this is mostly a marketing gimmick.

There is no way for any online divorce service or solicitor to speed up the Court process or shorten the timelines (such as the minimum 6 week and 1 day “cooling off” period between the Decree Nisi and the Decree Absolute). 

These timelines are simply out of their hands.

Quickie divorce poster

What these companies really mean when they say “Quickie” divorce is that they (supposedly) are quicker than most at the preparation and filing of your divorce petition.

Will I Need To Go To Court?

There are usually 3 reasons you may need to attend Court when applying for the Decree Nisi and/or the Decree Absolute:

  1. The Respondent objects to getting divorced.
  2. The Judge had questions about your application.
  3. The Respondent is the one applying for the Decree Absolute. 
The Respondent objects to getting divorced:

Defended divorces are rare, but if the Respondent does want to object, they must write to the Court within 7 days of receiving the divorce petition, saying that they don’t agree to the divorce. They then have a further 21 days to send a more detailed “answer” to the Court, explaining their reasons for objecting.

If this happens, then both parties will need to attend Court for a Judge to decide how matters will proceed. You'll normally also need to <bloglink>attend a MIAM<bloglink> before you can apply for a court order. To learn more about what happens when a divorce is defended, check out my <bloglink>in-depth guide to the divorce process<bloglink>.

Note: When the new <bloglink>no-fault divorce laws<bloglink> come into effect, it will no longer be possible to contest a divorce.

A family law courtroom
In some circumstances, you may need to go to Court to obtain the Decree Nisi or Decree Absolute
The Judge has questions about your application:

In the vast majority of undefended divorces, both the Decree Nisi and Decree Absolute are granted without needing to attend Court. However, if there are any unusual factors to your divorce (such as <bloglink>you have a prenuptial agreement<bloglink> in place or there is a <bloglink>claim for spousal maintenance<bloglink>), or the Judge just wants to clarify any information, they can ask you to write to them explaining things, or to attend Court for a hearing. This is rare, but can happen.

The Respondent is the one applying for the Decree Absolute:

If, for whatever reason, the Petitioner fails to apply for the Decree Absolute, then the Respondent can instead apply. But if this is the case, the Judge will require a Court hearing before the Decree Absolute is granted. At the hearing the Petitioner will be given a final opportunity to explain why they no longer want to apply for the Decree Absolute and to object to the divorce.

When To Delay Applying For The Decree Absolute

It’s important to realise that the <bloglink>divorce procedure<bloglink> (actually getting divorced) and the financial settlement (<bloglink>agreeing how to divide your assets and debts<bloglink>) are two separate processes.

The Divorce Process Vs The Divorce Settlement

This raises a question about timing:

Should you apply for the Decree Absolute before your divorce settlement is finalised?

In general, this is a very bad idea.

While it can take a long time to agree the divorce settlement (and you may feel tempted to finalise the divorce beforehand), jumping the gun can have a number of unintended consequences...

Emoji of a down pointing hand


 


What Happens If I DO Apply For The Decree Absolute Before The Divorce Settlement Is Agreed?

Finalising the divorce before the settlement is agreed can have a number of negative effects, including:

Losing the right to financial transfers

Some financial assets such as pension funds, trust funds or other complex assets can only be transferred to a legal spouse.

If you have already obtained the Decree Absolute, and are no longer legally married, you will not be able to automatically transfer these assets.

While you may be able to remedy the situation by making an application to the Court after divorce (for example, applying for a pension sharing order), this adds to cost and delay, and is not guaranteed.

Therefore, it’s much easier to agree and transfer any assets before the Decree Absolute is granted.

Losing any tax advantages

There are often tax advantages and discounts that can be claimed when married couples transfer assets between themselves.

If you agree to transfer any assets as part of your divorce settlement, but do this after you are divorced, then you will lose out on any of these tax deductions.

Losing your right to occupy the family home

As a spouse, you can apply for a Court order allowing you to occupy the marital home until (or sometimes beyond) the Decree Absolute, even if your partner is the sole owner.

However, the ability to apply for occupation rights expires once the Decree Absolute is granted.

Therefore, if the right to stay in the family home is likely to form part of the divorce negotiations, it’s best to delay applying for Decree Absolute until an agreement is reached.

Losing rights to spousal maintenance

Divorcing before you have finalised your finances may prevent the less well off partner from making a potential claim for spousal maintenance.

So, because of these risks it is best practice to progress any divorce settlement negotiations at the same time as you undertake the formal divorce process, with the financial settlement being approved by the Court prior to granting the Decree Absolute.

How Do I Get A Copy Of My Decree Absolute If I Have Lost It?

Once the Decree Absolute has been granted, the Court will send both you and your former partner a copy of the order. 

Keep it safe. 

It is an important legal document. And if you ever want to re-marry, you will need to show the original document (a copy is not enough).

A copy of the Decree Absolute
The Decree Absolute is an important legal document- Keep it in a safe place

If you have misplaced the Decree Absolute, you can <bloglink>order a replacement<bloglink>.

  • If you know the Court you got divorced at, and still have your case number, they will be able to find your records very easily and it will only cost £10 to get a replacement Decree Absolute.
  • If you know the Court, but don’t have your case number anymore, the Court will conduct a records search for you to find and replace your Decree Absolute. This will cost £45.
  • If you don’t know your case number or which Court you got divorced at, you will have to write to the Central Family Court (using <bloglink>Form D440<bloglink>), and they will search the central records for you. This will cost £65

This is why it’s a good idea to keep a record of both the Court you got divorced at, and your case number.

IMage showing the Court and Case number on the Decree Absolute
The Decree Absolute will tell you which Court you got divorced in, and the case number


Can I Cancel The Decree Nisi Or The Decree Absolute?

Sometimes couples reconcile and decide they would like to remain together. If this is the case, you and your partner can write to the Court asking them to cancel your divorce application at any time before the Decree Absolute has been granted (so yes, you can cancel the Decree Nisi). 

However, if the Decree Absolute had been granted, then it cannot be cancelled. At the point the Decree Absolute is granted, you are formally divorced, and your only option at that stage would be to remarry.

How Much Do The Decree Nisi And Decree Absolute Cost?

The cost of the entire divorce Court process is covered by the application fee (£550), which is paid when the Petitioner <bloglink>files the divorce petition<bloglink>. There is no additional cost when applying for the Decree Nisi or the Decree Absolute. 

Remember, this is just the Court fee. If you use a lawyer or an online service to help you throughout the divorce, they will charge their own fees. You can <bloglink>learn more about the costs of a divorce<bloglink> in my separate guide.

The Top 7 Things You Should Do After Getting The Decree Absolute

Once you have been granted the Decree Absolute you are formally divorced. As you embark on new beginnings, here are some important housekeeping matters you should consider:

  1. Rewrite your will, especially if you plan to remarry.
  2. Close any joint bank accounts, insurance policies, mortgage accounts etc.
  3. If your name has changed, apply for a new passport and driving licence.
  4. Notify HM Revenue & Customs that you are now divorced.
  5. Inform your children’s school.
  6. Ask the credit reference agencies to <bloglink>de-link your credit report<bloglink> from your former spouse.
  7. If you were married in the UK but divorced overseas, inform the UK Courts that you are now divorced.