What is the Difference Between a Decree Nisi and Decree Absolute?

By Claudia Price - 17th February 2021

A Decree Nisi is the first order issued by the court during the divorce process. It confirms that there is no reason why you should not divorce. A Decree Absolute is the final order issued by the court during the divorce process. It legally ends your marriage, leaving you free to marry someone else.

What is a Decree Nisi?

A Decree Nisi is your first decree of divorce. The court will issue a Decree Nisi, so long as it is satisfied that you meet the following legal requirements for divorce:

  • You have been married for at least one year
  • Your marriage has irretrievably broken down
  • Your marriage is recognised in the UK
  • The UK is your permanent home

The court wants to ensure that you meet these criteria, before continuing with the divorce process. In particular, you will need to prove that your marriage has irretrievably broken down. You can do this by establishing one of the five ‘facts’ of divorce, which are:

  1. Adultery
  2. Unreasonable behaviour
  3. Desertion
  4. Two years’ separation (and you both agree to the divorce)
  5. Five years’ separation

Following pronouncement of your Decree Nisi, you still remain legally married. This is only the first stage of the divorce process; the second stage is to apply for a Decree Absolute.

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What is a Decree Absolute?

Six weeks and one day after your Decree Nisi is issued, you are allowed to apply for a Decree Absolute. This is your final decree of divorce, which legally finalises the end of your marriage. You and your ex-spouse are then free to marry other people.

Some people wait until their financial settlement has been approved, before applying for a Decree Absolute. The right approach depends on your individual circumstances.

Financial implications of a Decree Absolute

Although a Decree Absolute ends your marriage, it does not finalise the financial commitments between you and your ex-spouse. Many fail to formally address their financial position, which could lead to your former spouse making a claim on your future wealth – many years after a Decree Absolute has been issued!

In order to sever all financial ties, you require a Clean Break. However, this is not always possible. It all depends on the financial position of each individual and their financial commitments. It may be that one party is unable to re-house with the children, and therefore the other party commits to discharging the mortgage for a specified period of time. By doing so, your financial ties remain in place until you obtain a Clean Break, leaving the possibility of your former spouse making a claim in the future. A divorce lawyer can explain whether this applies to your case, helping you take steps to protect your assets.

Are there any time restrictions?

You can apply for a Decree Nisi at any time, so long as you have been married for a year. Once a Decree Nisi has been issued, you then have 12 months to apply for a Decree Absolute. However, there may be a delay, especially if you are in a lengthy dispute over your financial settlement. If more than 12 months passes, you will have to provide a written explanation to the court, confirming:

  • Why your application for a Decree Absolute was not made earlier
  • Whether you have lived with your ex-spouse since the date your Decree Nisi was pronounced
  • If either party has had a child since the pronouncement of Decree Nisi

Speak to our divorce law solicitors

There are many financial and legal implications that can remain even after divorce, if not addressed. It is vital that you obtain legal advice to ensure matters are concluded and there are no future surprises.

Our specialist family team are able to advise you throughout the process. Call us today for a free no-obligation initial appointment on 0161 532 5780.

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