Civil law

What is a decree absolute?

If the decree absolute, has come through, it means your marriage has legally ended. That's because the decree absolute is the document that ends the union in the eyes of the law. However, there are other aspects to be aware of during the divorce process.

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How does the divorce process work in the UK?

The UK divorce process has a number of key stages:

  • A petition is filed by one partner, citing one of five reasons for divorce: desertion, adultery, unreasonable behaviour, separation for two years or separation for five years
  • If the petition is uncontested by the other partner, the petitioner can apply for a decree nisi
  • If the petition is contested and the other partner intends to defend the divorce, a final hearing can be held and the decree nisi can still be issued
  • Six weeks and one day after the decree nisi has been issued, the petitioner can apply for the decree absolute, which, once issued, means that the marriage has legally ended

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

The decree nisi is an order from the court that confirms the relationship has broken down irretrievably and that the reason given for divorce has been accepted. Essentially, this order says that the court sees no reason why the couple in question shouldn't be able to legally divorce.

A period of six weeks and one day is then imposed before the petitioner can apply for a decree absolute. This period of waiting has been designed to take into account situations where one or both parties change their mind about the  divorce. This doesn't happen often, but couples do occasionally have a change of heart, even at this very late stage.

Apply for a decree absolute immediately or wait?

The process for applying for a decree absolute is relatively straightforward. You simply need to complete and sign the relevant form and send it to the court office after the required six weeks and one day period.

However, some people choose to delay applying for a decree absolute, while others prefer to get the legal document to end their marriage immediately so that they can move on with their life.

There are various reasons why people may delay their application; the main one being that financial issues between the couple remain unresolved.

If these issues haven't been resolved by the deadline for applying for a decree absolute - which is 12 months after the decree nisi is issued – then a reason will have to be given for the delay when you eventually apply for the decree absolute.  

Other reasons for delaying or postponing an application for a decree absolute include:

  • Religious reasons: Where a couple will need to arrange a religious divorce before they can finalise a civil divorce, and the two parties are unable to agree on this
  • Death before divorce proceedings are complete: In this tragic circumstance, the surviving partner could be disadvantaged if a decree absolute is in place but a financial order is not. For example, where a husband dies during divorce proceedings and the widow's pension is not payable if a decree absolute is in place

Situations like these can become very complicated. Problems with the divorce process or disputes over finances can prevent both parties from moving on with their lives, as well as causing issues with money and childcare arrangements.

In these cases, it's always recommended to seek legal advice from a specialist solicitor who can advise on the best way to bring a quick resolution for the benefit of both parties.

Slater and Gordon has a large team of divorce specialists with experience in all kinds of divorce cases.

Please feel free to contact us if you have a question or need help resolving a difficult or drawn-out divorce dispute.

You can call us now on 0330 107 6495 or contact us and we will call you.

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