What Is The Difference Between A Decree Nisi and Decree Absolute in Divorce?

sarah ryan
Sarah RyanAccount Manager @ Lawhive & Non-Practising Solicitor
Updated on 9th February 2024

This article was written before No Fault Divorce was introduced on April 6th 2022. Under the new law, a Decree Nisi and Decree Absolute are now called Conditional Orders and Final Orders.

Previously, a Decree Nisi was the first order issued by the court during the divorce process.

This order confirmed that there were no legal reasons why a divorce shouldn't proceed.

Similarly, a Decree Absolute was the final order issued by the court in the divorce process. When a Decree Absolute was granted, it legally terminated the marriage or civil partnership it applied to.

What is a Decree Nisi?

In the past, a Decree Nisi was issued if the court was satisfied that the divorcing couple met the legal requirements for divorce and that they had sufficiently proved the marriage had irretrievably broken down by establishing one of the five 'facts' or grounds for divorce.

During the divorce process, after the Decree Nisi was pronounced, the separating couple remained legally married until they got the Decree Absolute.

What is a Decree Absolute?

A Decree Absolute was the final order issued by a court that finalised divorce or dissolution.

After a divorcing couple received their Decree Nisi, they had to wait six weeks and one day before applying for the Decree Absolute. However, sometimes, divorcing couples would choose to wait until they had agreed on a financial settlement before applying for the Decree Absolute.

What is the difference between a Decree Nisi and a Decree Absolute?

The Decree Nisi, established by The Matrimonial Causes Act 1860, marked a midpoint in the divorce process. It indicated that the court found no legal barriers to ending the marriage or civil partnership.

However, couples remained legally married until they obtained the Decree Absolute, which formally terminated the marriage or civil partnership.

Therefore, the main difference between the two was one confirmed a couple was legally able to divorce, while the other officially confirmed the end of the marriage in full.

What's in a name?

New laws introduced in April 2022 updated terminology in divorce proceedings, including the Decree Nisi and Decree Absolute. Other changes include the rebranding of 'divorce petition' to 'an application for a divorce order.'

The purpose of these changes was to make divorce more accessible and came hand in hand with a new online divorce service intended to make the process simpler and less contentious for separating couples.

What is the new name for Decree Nisi?

The new name for a Decree Nisi is now Conditional Order. There are no real differences between a Decree Nisi and a Conditional Order.

Both are orders issued by the courts that confirm there is no legal reason why a married couple or civil partners cannot get divorced or dissolve their civil partnership.

What is the new name for Decree Absolute?

The new name for Decree Absolute in divorce is now Final Order. When this is granted by the court, the marriage or civil partnership is officially ended and both parties are free to remarry if they wish.

Get help with divorce proceedings from Lawhive

We get it, the law is complicated, especially when things like this change and you're trying to work out what that means for you and how it applies to your situation.

While new divorce laws make getting divorced much more straightforward, the process can still throw up complications, which combined with the emotional impact of divorce, can be difficult to deal with.

If you are considering a divorce and need advice on the process of making an application or negotiating a fair financial settlement with your ex, our network of specialist divorce lawyers is here to help.

To get started, book a call with our legal assessment team for quick, practical help and a fixed-fee quote.

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