Decree Absolute – The divorce process explained
One of the most common questions asked of a divorce solicitor by their clients is when does the marriage actually end. And we can see why it’s confusing: towards the end of the process your solicitor will make an application for decree nisi and then a few weeks later for decree absolute.
So what does each stage mean?
Decree nisi comes first and is a conditional order of divorce. From this point the court can begin making orders relating to divorce finances (orders relating to children can be made at any point and do not depend on a divorce petition). The decree nisi is pronounced by District Judge in a court room on a set date and you do not have to attend, though you may do so if you wish. It takes a matter of moments. At this point the couple are still married.
After the pronouncement of decree nisi there is a “cooling off” period of six weeks and one day before you can apply for the final stage of divorce: decree absolute. Once the certificate of decree absolute has been sealed by the court, the marriage is officially ended and the couple are free to marry other people if they wish.
What if the Applicant does not apply?
The Applicant (also called the Petitioner) normally applies for decree absolute. If they are delaying then the Respondent can apply but needs to wait an additional 3 months.
If the Applicant delays for more than 12 months in seeking a decree absolute they will need to provide an explanation to the court for the delay. This is to make sure that the reasons for the divorce are still valid.
Can the six week period be shortened?
Yes, in exceptional circumstances but an application to court is needed to ‘abridge’ the waiting period under section 1 (5) of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. Applications used to be far more common because historically the waiting period was 6 months, not 6 weeks. Applications are rare in practice because, like any court application, they are expensive and because the circumstances in which the court will shorten the period are so exceptional – most commonly if a party may die or have a baby imminently. In a recent case a marriage was ended so that the parties could formalise their immigration status.
Bear in mind that ending a marriage can have implications for inheritance, pension entitlement and the ability to apply for financial orders so you must always take legal advice before proceeding to decree absolute.
If you have any questions about either of the decrees or need help getting to that stage then contact us. One of our specialist divorce solicitors can advise you on all aspects of divorce.