What is a Decree Nisi?

Divorce dictionary entry
Originally published on 24th May 2019 at 12:23 PM

If you are legally ending your marriage by divorcing or ending your civil partnership through a dissolution in England and Wales, there are four main documents that need to be completed.

The ‘Decree Nisi’ is one of the four main documents involved in the legal process of separating. To make things easier, we’ve listed all four stages so you can see where the Decree Nisi comes in and why it’s important.

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’ aka the divorce/dissolution petition.

Step two – the Respondent completes and returns the Acknowledgement of Service to the courts

Once the court has received your petition and you have paid their fee (use our court fee calculator here to work out if you’re entitled to a discount), the court will send copies of the paperwork to the Respondent (person responding to the petition). They will receive a Notice of Proceedings, a copy of the divorce petition and an ‘Acknowledgement of Service’ or ‘D10’ form. The Respondent needs to answer the questions on the Acknowledgement of Service form, sign and date it and return it to the court address at the bottom of the sheet.

Step three – the Decree Nisi

There are three stages here.

  1. The Petitioner needs to apply to the court for the Decree Nisi. There are two forms: one is officially referred to as a ‘D84’ and basically confirms that you’d like to proceed to the next part of the divorce/dissolution; the other form (‘D80A,B,C,D or E’) is the supporting statement and gives the court more information on the reason for the divorce/dissolution e.g. unreasonable behaviour, two years separation etc.
  1. Once they receive the application for the Decree Nisi, the court will review the documents you’ve submitted so far and decide whether they can approve your application and allow you to divorce. 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’.

The Decree Nisi pronouncement is usually 2-6 weeks after you receive your Certificate of Entitlement letter.

  1. 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; 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 (sometimes called a 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.

It’s important to note that you are NOT divorced at Decree Nisi stage, think of this step as the ‘pending stage’ in the divorce or dissolution.

Step four - the Decree Absolute

This is the final stage of the divorce process and only the Decree Absolute means you’re officially divorced. Until you have this final piece of paper, you are still legally married/in a civil partnership.

You will have to wait a minimum of six weeks and one day after your Decree Nisi has been pronounced before you can send 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.

1-2 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.

For help with the above, please click here for advice from one of our experts.

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About the author

Having experienced her own protracted and expensive divorce, Emma has spent the past 5 years working as a Divorce Mentor. Emma works with divorcing couples to find a pragmatic approach, thereby minimising conflict and costs.

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