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Divorce Advice: The Role of the Decree Nisi

In an uncontested divorce, the spouse applying for the divorce lodges a petition. Following this, their spouse will receive a copy of this petition along with other documents. This individual will then return these documents to the court who, in turn, will forward these completed documents to the individual that applied for the divorce. This individual, known as the Petitioner, can progress matters by completing both a D80 and D84 (also known, respectively, as a Divorce Affidavit and an Application for Decree Nisi) and filing them with the court. A judge will then review the entirety of the application and, provided everything is in order, issue the Petitioner with what is known as a Decree Nisi.

A Decree Nisi is, in essence, an interim order. A judge has reviewed the divorce application in its entirety, has decided that there is no reason why a divorce should not be granted and that a Decree Absolute (the order confirming that the marriage has been dissolved) can be applied for six weeks and one day from the date on which the Decree Nisi is issued. But why, you may wonder, is it necessary to issue an interim order rather than simply issuing an order than ends the marriage there and then?

The first answer to that question can be found within the Matrimonial Clauses Act 1973. Section 1(5) of this act states that: “Every decree of divorce shall in the first instance be a decree nisi and shall not be made absolute before the expiration of six months from its grant.” This six month waiting period was later reduced to six weeks and one day following the introduction of the Family Law Act 1996 becoming active in 1997.

Whilst this addresses the legal reasons behind why a Decree Nisi is issued, though, it provides no reason as to why legislators feel that this waiting period is necessary. To put it simply, a waiting period of six weeks and one day is necessary for two reasons: to provide the parties with time within which to raise with the court any reason why the divorce should not go ahead and for them to finalise the division of assets such as properties, savings, pensions and so on.

Whilst the first of these reasons is unlikely to apply to individuals that are seeking an uncontested divorce, the second will be relevant to many. This period of six weeks and one day provides the parties with an opportunity to iron out their agreement and have the details of this agreement entered into a document known as a Consent Order.

This Consent Order is then submitted to the court, reviewed by a judge and, provided that the judge approves of the order – which they almost certainly will do if the caveats contained within are just and reasonable – then these agreements become legally binding thus preventing either spouse from claiming further monies off the other following their divorce having been made final.

So, there you have it. The timescale may seem a little bizarre and the wait may be frustrating, but that six weeks and one day waiting period has been put in place in order to ensure that the parties have ample time within which to finalise and have their agreement signed off before their Decree Absolute is issued and their divorce is concluded.

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