If you are legally ending your marriage in England and Wales by divorcing, or ending your civil partnership through a dissolution, there are four main steps involved. These steps correspond with four main documents. The ‘decree nisi’ is the third step in the process which can only be applied for once the divorce petition has been filled in and sent to the court by the person starting the divorce / dissolution (the ‘petitioner’) and the D10 form (also know as the acknowledgement of service) has been returned to the court by the other person (the ‘respondent’).
What is a decree nisi and how does it differ from a decree absolute?
The ‘decree nisi’ is officially referred to as the D84 form and is comprised of two parts (D84 and D80). The ‘decree nisi’ differs from the ‘decree absolute’ as it is the penultimate step before you are officially divorced. The purpose of the form is to confirm that you would like to proceed to the next stage of your divorce /dissolution. Therefore, you are not officially divorced, or your civil partnership dissolved, until you have successfully applied for your decree absolute, the fourth and final step of the divorce process.
Legally separating is comprised of four stages, we’ve broken these down for you..
A step by step guide on how to apply for a divorce or dissolution in England and Wales
Step one: File a divorce petition (for marriages) or dissolution petition (for civil partnerships)
You will need to decide who is the petitioner (the person starting the divorce) and who is going to be the respondent (the person responding to the petition). The petitioner needs to start the process by filling in a ‘D8’ (the divorce/dissolution petition). Read our guide to starting the divorce/dissolution process here.
Step two: The respondent completes and returns the acknowledgement of service (D10)
Once the court has received your petition and you have paid the divorce court fee, the court will send copies of the paperwork to the respondent (person responding to the petition).
The respondent will receive a few documents including a copy of the petition and the ‘acknowledgement of service’ also known as the ‘D10’ form. The respondent needs to answer the questions on the acknowledgement of service form, sign and date it and then return it to the court address at the bottom of the sheet. The D10 will differ depending on the reason used in the petition.
Step three: Apply for the decree nisi
The Petitioner must apply for the ‘decree nisi’.
Once the court receives the decree nisi application, a judge will review the documents you’ve submitted so far and decide whether they you can legally separate or not. This typically takes the court eight to ten weeks to process, however can vary if the courts are busy. If the court agrees you have sufficient grounds, you will receive a letter called ‘certificate of entitlement’, confirming that the court approves your divorce application and notifying you when your decree nisi will be ‘pronounced’.
What Does the Decree Nisi Application Look like?
The first part of the decree nisi, the D84 is generic and therefore does not alter depending on the grounds:
The D80 on the other hand alters depending on what grounds your divorce / dissolution is based on, therefore it’s important to make sure you are filling out the correct form:
- D80 A - adultery
- D80 B - unreasonable behaviour
- D80 C - desertion
- D80 D - two years separation
- D80 E - five years separation
The decree nisi pronouncement is usually two to six weeks after you receive your certificate of entitlement letter. On the decree nisi pronouncement date your petition will be read aloud in court to make this legal step ‘official’. You will not have to attend court; it is just a formality…
The decree nisi pronouncement date is also significant in your separation journey as, after this date, you’re able to submit your financial proposal (also known as consent order, clean break consent order or financial remedy order) to the court too. The rationale behind this is you can’t make your financial split legally binding until the court have agreed you can separate in the first place.
Step four: The decree absolute
The decree absolute stage of your divorce or dissolution is the final step.
You will have to wait a minimum of six weeks and one day after your decree nisi has been pronounced before you can submit your application for the decree absolute to the court. Essentially, the court is giving you some cooling off time to ensure that you’re sure you’d like to proceed to the divorce.
One to two weeks after the Petitioner has sent the application to the court, you’ll both receive a decree absolute certificate which completes the divorce/dissolution process and means you’re legally divorced. The decree absolute replaces your marriage/civil partnership, certificate as confirmation that you’re divorced, so make sure to keep it in a safe place.
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