A guide to understanding your divorce final order

If you've reached the stage when your final divorce order, the decree absolute, has come through. Read our guide on what this means.

12 April 2018

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If you've reached the stage when your final divorce order, the decree absolute, has come through, this means one important thing - your marriage is legally ended. The decree absolute is the document that ends the union in the eyes of the law. However, there are some other things you need to know to understand divorce final orders.

How the divorce process works in the UK

The UK divorce process has a number of key stages, starting with the following:

  • 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 (although most couples manage to settle disputes during divorce proceedings). After issues are settled, the decree nisi can be issued
  • After a specified period of time, the petitioner can apply for the decree absolute. Once this is issued, the marriage is legally ended

The decree nisi and decree absolute - understanding the differences

Some people are confused between the decree nisi and decree absolute, and it isn’t unheard of for someone to think they’re legally divorced after the decree nisi is granted. This would be a very serious mistake, especially for someone who wishes to remarry, as the decree nisi doesn’t legally end the marriage.

The decree nisi is an order from the court which confirms that 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 legally divorce.

A period of at least six weeks (and one day) is then imposed before the petitioner can apply for a decree absolute. This period of waiting has been designed for situations in which one or both parties change their mind about divorce. This doesn’t happen frequently, but couples do occasionally have a change of heart.

The key difference between the two decrees is that only the decree absolute can legally end the marriage.

Applying for a decree absolute immediately vs. delaying the application

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 lives.

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 - one or both parties will need to explain the delay to the court and seek the postponement of the application.

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
  • One party dies before divorce proceedings are complete - in this circumstance, the surviving partner could be disadvantaged if a decree absolute is in place but a financial order is not. There may also be problems with pensions. For example, if a husband dies during divorce proceedings and the widow’s pension is not payable if a decree absolute is in place, and a financial agreement still hasn’t been reached

As you can see, 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 resolution quickly and to the benefit of all parties.

How to apply for a decree absolute

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 with the appropriate fee. The decree absolute will be read out in court, but usually neither party is required to attend the hearing.

Choose Slater and Gordon for expert legal advice on divorce

If you need advice on any part of the divorce process or you’re seeking expert legal representation in your case, you can rely on Slater and Gordon’s specialist divorce lawyers. Simply contact us on freephone 0330 107 4994 or contact us online.

All the above information was correct at the time of publication.

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