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Decree Nisi and Decree Absolute: A Complete Guide

What is a decree absolute?

A decree absolute is the court order which will officially bring your marriage to an end. In other words, this is the point when you are officially divorced. Once you receive the decree absolute, you and your ex-spouse can now marry other people if you wish.

The process of getting a decree absolute can be relatively straightforward or complex, depending on your circumstances. For example, if one or both of you has a large amount of wealth and assets spread around the world and cannot come to an agreement on how to split these, then it could take a long time to get your decree absolute. As a rough estimate, we say it usually takes around four to six months, but it can take a lot longer.

When should I apply for the decree absolute? 

It depends on your circumstances. If you apply for your decree absolute too soon, for example, this could affect the outcome of your financial settlement.

This is why it is so important to get advice tailored to your individual circumstances. A good solicitor should be able to discuss the pros and cons of applying for your decree absolute before having a financial order and advise you when is the best time to apply for your decree absolute.

What is a decree nisi?

A decree nisi is a document which states that the court does not see any reason why you should not be able to divorce. It is possible to make financial orders after the decree nisi is pronounced.

Newspapers are often filled with stories of ‘quickie’ divorces. In 2016, The Sun branded singer Cheryl’s divorce from Jean-Bernard Fernandez-Versini, as “Britain’s fastest ever quickie divorce”, after she was reportedly granted her decree nisi in just 14 seconds.

However, these stories can be a little misleading, as a couple are still married until the decree absolute is finalised. A decree nisi does not mean that you are divorced.

Once the court has all the documents that it needs, it can then allocate a date for the decree nisi to be pronounced.

In essence, a decree nisi is a piece of paper that shows that the court is satisfied that you can divorce. After your decree nisi is pronounced, financial orders can be made with regard to your financial settlement.

When is the decree absolute in the divorce process? 

The decree absolute is the final element of the divorce process. It is the document which officially ends your marriage. 

It can only be applied for at least 6 weeks and 1 day after the decree nisi is pronounced.

Normally, it is only applied for after the financial settlement has been finalised and the consent order (if applicable) has been approved by the court. Although the financial side of divorce is separate from the divorce process itself, it often runs concurrently with it. 

Your solicitor may advise you to wait until you have agreed a financial settlement with your spouse before applying for the decree absolute. However, whether or not this is best for you will depend on your circumstances, which is why it is always best to seek independent legal advice from an experienced divorce solicitor.

When can I apply for the decree absolute?

Remember, before you can get a decree absolute, you first need to make an application for a decree nisi.

Once you have your decree nisi, you will then need to wait for at least 6 weeks and 1 day before applying to the courts for your decree absolute.

However, if you wait for more than a year to apply for your decree absolute after you get your decree nisi, you will have to tell the court the reasons for the delay.

If you apply for your decree absolute before the financial order, you may find that your entitlement to some marital assets is affected. It’s highly recommended that you seek legal advice suited to your specific circumstances.

How do I apply for the decree absolute?

In order to make an application for a decree absolute, you’ll need to fill in a D36 Form asking the court to make a decree nisi absolute.

After you fill in and submit this form, the court will then verify that you have met the time limits and that there are no other reasons which would mean that your divorce cannot be granted.

Once this has happened, you and your spouse will then get your decree absolute. At this point, you are officially divorced.

Applying for a decree absolute in a civil partnership

The process of getting a decree absolute or dissolving your civil partnership is the same as when applying for one in a marriage. It can be relatively straightforward or complex, depending on your circumstances. 

How long does a decree absolute take?

Once you apply for your decree absolute, it normally takes around 3 weeks for your divorce to be finalised.

The whole divorce process can take anything from a few months to well over a year, normally depending on the complexity of the financial settlement and whether an agreement on this can be reached.

Decree absolute FAQs

What happens if I don’t apply for a decree absolute?

If you leave the application to your spouse it can delay your process for three to four months. This is because your ex-partner will have to wait an extra three months before applying.

Does the financial settlement come before or after the decree absolute?

While you can apply for a decree absolute to end your marriage before you’ve reached a financial settlement, it’s advisable to come to an agreement first, as your entitlement to certain assets may change.

What’s the difference between the decree absolute and decree nisi?

The difference between the decree absolute and the decree nisi is that the decree nisi shows the court is satisfied you can divorce, while the decree absolute is the final document that confirms the dissolution of the marriage.

Do I need to keep the decree absolute?

It’s important that you keep the decree absolute in a safe place, as you’ll need it if you want to remarry. A photocopy won’t be enough.

How can I get a copy of my decree absolute?

To get a copy, contact the court that issued the original decree and quote the case number. Replacing the decree will cost £10. However, if you don’t have the case number, it’ll cost £45.

Contact our expert divorce solicitors for advice on divorce

For more information call our divorce solicitors on 0845 862 5001 or email

Our expert family law solicitors offer a nationwide service. We have client meeting office facilities available, in order to have face-to-face client meetings/conferences as and when required in:

Please contact us for more details.

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18th July 2022

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