Decree Nisi and Decree Absolute
When considering the divorce procedure in the UK, many people can be confused as to what decree nisi (from the Latin nisi, meaning “unless”) and decree absolute are. These are fundamental aspects of the divorce process, and although the basic concepts are very simple, they are very different things.
The important thing to remember, right from the beginning, is that a decree nisi can only be granted if both parties consent to the divorce. In a nutshell, if neither partner wishes to challenge the divorce procedure, then the husband or wife can apply for a decree nisi – a legal document that confirms that the divorce court sees no reason why they cannot divorce. Once this is obtained, then the process moves forward and eventually leads to the granting of a decree absolute – the legal document that declares the marriage completely null and void and grants permission to both parties to remarry if they so wish.
The granting of the decree nisi
Before either the decree nisi or decree absolute are granted by the court, however, we must go back to the very start of the divorce procedure. The party initiating the divorce is called the ‘petitioner’, while the other marriage partner is known as the ‘respondent’. As mentioned, it is very important that the respondent does not challenge the divorce (known as a ‘defended divorce’ – fortunately these are quite rare) so that the petitioner can apply for the divorce to proceed and the process can move forward. What happens next is that the court checks that all the legal formalities have taken place (this is where divorce lawyers prove invaluable) and if it is satisfied, then a date is fixed for the official pronouncement of the decree nisi, which occurs in court, although neither party in the divorce is actually required to be there.
It cannot be stressed enough that this does not make the divorce final, but merely declares the petitioner to be entitled to the divorce.
Moving on to the decree absolute
Following a period of no less than six weeks, the petitioner is then allowed to apply for the decree absolute, the document that truly makes the divorce final. The reason that so many divorcees appear to experience such a long wait for their divorces to come through is that this is rarely applied for until all thorny matters between the petitioner and respondent have been settled – matters of child and/or pet custody, property and financial affairs. Any divorce lawyers worth their salt will strongly advise their clients not to apply for the decree absolute until absolutely all of these matters have been taken care of.
Again, the process by which a decree absolute is issued is not one which is especially complicated or drawn out, once the initial application has been made. There is no court hearing, but rather the court verifies the prior issuing of a decree nisi and double checks that nothing has changed since then that prevents a decree absolute being made. All being well, the court will then draw up this final decree and send copies of it to both the petitioner and the respondent.
If the petitioner does not apply for the decree absolute
The procedure can become more complicated, however, if it is not the petitioner that applies for the decree absolute, but the respondent. If, for whatever reason, the petitioner fails to apply for the final decree after a time that seems reasonable to the respondent, then they are entitled to apply for it themselves. This can only happen three months after the earliest date that the petitioner would have been entitled – i.e. after six weeks plus a further three months. Once the application is made, then there is a court hearing, which both parties in the divorce are required to attend. At this hearing, the petitioner can state their opposition to the issuing of a decree absolute – for instance, if they believe that financial or property matters have not been satisfactorily resolved – and it is up to the court to decide whether these objections are reasonable and to decide whether or not the decree absolute should be issued anyway. As ever, a good divorce lawyer will give their client advice as to when and whether a decree absolute should be applied for or, in the case of a respondent’s application, whether there are good grounds for the petitioner objecting to it.