What’s The Difference Between A Decree Nisi and a Conditional Order?

emily gordon brown
Emily Gordon BrownLegal Assessment Specialist @ Lawhive
Updated on 25th October 2023

The conditional order replaced the decree nisi when new divorce laws came into effect in April 2022. Both are documents issued by the courts that confirm they see no reason why you and your spouse cannot get divorced. Whether you apply for and receive a decree nisi or a conditional order will depend on when you began divorce proceedings.


The reason for this change is because the divorce process has changed. The new process, called no-fault divorce, means separating spouses or civil partners no longer have to provide grounds (reasons) for their divorce. Instead, they can just say the marriage is beyond repair and should be ended.

Essentially, a decree nisi and a conditional order are different names for the same thing. But if you’re still confused, let’s break it down further.

What is a decree nisi?

A decree nisi was a document issued by the court as part of the old divorce process. Divorce applicants would apply for the decree nisi after the court had issued their divorce application and following a 20 week ‘reflection period’.

The decree nisi was basically the Family Court’s way of saying: “We don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t be married”. In the old divorce process, a decree nisi did not signal the legal end of your marriage. Before that happened, applicants needed to apply for a decree absolute.

What’s the difference between a decree nisi and conditional order?

The only difference between a decree nisi and a conditional order is the name and when you might get one or the other. If you began divorce proceedings after 6th of April 2022, you will apply for a conditional order and you shouldn’t worry about a decree nisi. If you applied before this date, you will apply for a decree nisi.

Just like in the previous divorce process, a conditional order does not signal the legal end to your marriage. Rather, it serves as a formal confirmation from the court that you can get divorced. After you receive a conditional order, you still need to apply for a final order to legally end the marriage. It is only then that you will be officially divorced.

How do I apply for a conditional order?

Before you can apply for a conditional order, you must first apply online for a divorce. After this application has been processed by the court, you need to wait 20 weeks before you can apply for a conditional order.

If you applied online, you will receive instructions on how to do this. If you are applying by post, you will need to fill out and submit Form D84. A divorce solicitor can help you do this if you wish.

It’s important to note that you should only apply for a conditional order if the court issued your application on or after 6th April 2022. If your application was issued before then, there is a different form you need to submit to apply for a decree nisi.

Can a conditional order be refused?

It is very rare for the court to reject or refuse a Conditional Order. That being said, it can happen if there is a valid reason, such as the divorce is contested by one spouse.

New no-fault divorce rules, however, mean a divorce can only be contested in very specific circumstances.

What happens after a conditional order is granted?

After the conditional order is granted, applicants must wait a further 6 weeks and 1 day before applying for a final order.

Only when the final order has been granted by the court is a divorce or civil partnership legally ended.

How can we help?

Understanding the divorce process can be difficult. Even more so when you’re also dealing with complex feelings and emotions are running high. That’s why seeking help from an expert divorce lawyer should be your first port of call in the divorce process.

With the right legal support you can minimise your chances of having to take the matter to court and ensure you have covered all of your bases in relation to a fair divorce financial settlement and child arrangements.

At Lawhive, our dedicated family law and divorce lawyers are on hand to help you initiate and complete your divorce proceedings. To get started, use our simple online form to tell us about your case and receive a fixed-fee quote for your situation.

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