On 6th April 2022, some of the legal terminology and the procedure surrounding divorce changed, meaning that ongoing divorces that started before this date may have different rules applied to them from those that began after.
Decree nisi and decree absolute are orders that form part of the divorce process that started before 6th April 2022. In the following guide, we will define decree nisi and decree absolute, and consider the differences between them.
A decree nisi is a provisional decree of divorce that is given by the court when the legal and procedural requirements for divorce are met by a person. A couple are still legall married after a decree nisi is granted and further steps must be taken for a divorce to be made. The decree nisi is the first goal in the divorce procedure and will likely lead to a divorce being granted for those who began the divorce process before 6th April 2022.
Divorces that began after 6th April 2022 will instead deal with a conditional order, which replaces the decree nisi, but they serve similar purposes. You must first achieve a decree nisi or conditional order to arrive at the next step for divorce.
You can apply for a conditional order once 20 weeks have passed since the divorce proceedings were issued (officially started by the court), provided the application has been correctly served on the other party. Just like a decree nisi, you are still married after the conditional order has been made. It simply stands as formal confirmation that you are entitled to a divorce.
Typically, a decree nisi will be sent between three and six months after a divorce petition is made. The court will dispatch the document by post, and once you have received it, you may continue the divorce process.
In some specific cases, the court could refuse to grant a decree nisi (now a conditional order, thus stalling the divorce proceedings. This may happen due to a number of reasons:
While it is rare for divorces to be refused by the court, it is possible; to avoid this, ensure you include all the relevant details in your application and the best quality copy of your marriage certificate.
Once a decree nisi has been successfully achieved, the person seeking the divorce must then wait at least six weeks and one day before making their application for the decree absolute, which is the deciding decree of the divorce that will dissolve the marriage. Once this has been granted, you are officially divorced.
For divorces that started on or after 6th April 2022, the new equivalent of a decree absolute is the ‘final order’, which can be applied for six weeks and one day after the conditional order has been made. The final order can be applied for jointly if the divorce and conditional order applications were made by the couple jointly. Once the final order is made you are ‘divorced’.
The simple difference between the two is that one stands as confirmation that the parties are entitled to a divorce and the other completes the divorce under the old system of divorce proceedings. Both must be achieved and serve different purposes. These have since been changed to the conditional and final orders due to the decree nisi definition being confusing, whereas the new orders are more self-explanatory. While there may be some further technical differences between the two due to modern updates, they are functionally the same.
Sometimes, people are advised to await the approval of a financial order before applying for their decree absolute or final order. This will depend on the individual’s financial situation. Following the decree nisi, there is no concrete deadline for the decree absolute application. However, if there is a large gap of time taken between the two, usually upwards of 12 months, the court will demand an explanation for this.