What is a decree nisi? A step by step guide on how to apply

Originally published on 24th May 2019 at 11:23 AM
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If you are legally ending your marriage in England and Wales by divorcing or ending your civil partnership through a dissolution, there are four main steps involved. These steps correspond with four main documents.

The ‘decree nisi’ is the third step in the process which can only be applied for once the 'divorce petition' has been submitted and sent to the court by the person starting the divorce/ dissolution (the ‘petitioner’) and the D10 form (also known as the acknowledgement of service) has been returned to the court by the other person (the ‘respondent’).

No-fault divorce was introduced on the 6th of April 2022 and as part of the changes, the language used on the forms has been updated. The decree nisi is now called the conditional order, and the decree absolute is now called the final order, under the new sytem. If you're on the previous journey, your application and certificate will still be called the decree nisi.

In this blog, we are looking at the previous system and terminology, before the introduction of no-fault divorce. If you applied for your divorce after the 6th of April 2022, you can read our guide on applying for your conditional order here.

What is a decree nisi and how does it differ from a decree absolute?

The ‘decree nisi’ is officially referred to as the D84 form and is comprised of two parts (D84 and D80). The ‘decree nisi’ differs from the ‘decree absolute’ as it is the penultimate step before you are officially divorced. The purpose of the form is to confirm that you would like to proceed to the next stage of your divorce /dissolution. Therefore, you are not officially divorced, or your civil partnership dissolved, until you have successfully applied for your decree absolute, the fourth and final step of the divorce process.

Legally separating is comprised of four stages, we’ve broken these down for you...

A step by step guide on how to apply for a divorce or dissolution in England and Wales

Step one: Submit a divorce application or dissolution application (for civil partnerships)

You will need to decide who is the petitioner (the person starting the divorce) and who is going to be the respondent (the person responding to the divorce application). The petitioner needs to start the process by submitting a ‘D8’ (the divorce application). Read our guide to starting the divorce application process here.

Step two: The respondent completes and returns the acknowledgement of service (D10)

Once the court has received your application and you have paid the divorce court fee, the court will send copies of the paperwork to the respondent (person responding to the petition).

The respondent will receive a few documents including a copy of the application and the ‘acknowledgement of service’ also known as the ‘D10’ form. The respondent needs to answer the questions on the acknowledgement of service form, sign and date it and then return it to the court address at the bottom of the sheet. The D10 will differ depending on the reason used in the application.

Step three: Apply for the decree nisi

The Petitioner must apply for the ‘decree nisi’.

Once the court receives the decree nisi application, a judge will review the documents you’ve submitted so far and decide whether they you can legally separate or not. This typically takes the court eight to ten weeks to process, however can vary if the courts are busy. If the court agrees you have sufficient grounds, you will receive a letter called ‘certificate of entitlement’, confirming that the court approves your divorce application and notifying you when your decree nisi will be ‘pronounced’.

What does the decree nisi application look like?

The first part of the decree nisi, the D84 is generic and therefore does not alter depending on the grounds:

The D80 on the other hand alters depending on what grounds your divorce / dissolution is based on, therefore it’s important to make sure you are submitting out the correct form:

The decree nisi pronouncement is usually two to six weeks after you receive your certificate of entitlement letter. On the decree nisi pronouncement date your petition will be read aloud in court to make this legal step ‘official’. You will not have to attend court; it is just a formality…

The decree nisi pronouncement date is also significant in your separation journey as, after this date, you’re able to submit your financial proposal (also known as consent order, clean break consent order or financial remedy order) to the court too. The rationale behind this is you can’t make your financial split legally binding until the court have agreed you can separate in the first place.

Step four: The decree absolute

The decree absolute stage of your divorce or dissolution is the last step.

You will have to wait a minimum of six weeks and one day after your decree nisi has been pronounced before you can submit your application for the decree absolute to the court. Essentially, the court is giving you some cooling off time to ensure that you’re sure you’d like to proceed to the divorce.

One to two weeks after the petitioner has sent the application to the court, you’ll both receive a decree absolute certificate which completes the divorce/dissolution process and means you’re legally divorced. The decree absolute replaces your marriage/civil partnership, certificate as confirmation that you’re divorced, so make sure to keep it in a safe place.

Struggling with the decree nisi stage? Get help from amicable today.

amicable assists with all divorce paperwork, so that you can focus on the important things.

For help with the above, please click here for advice from one of our Divorce Specialists.

If you have any questions, or would like some support, please book a free 15-minute call with one of our Divorce Specialists here.

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06.05.2021 7:54

My decree nisi was refused by the court on the grounds I was still living with my husband - as I had nowhere else to go? My petition was for adultery and this was admitted and the divorce not contested? We have now together drawn up a financial agreement with my husbands solicitor but how do I go about resubmitting a decree nisi without hiring another solicitor of my own (I can’t afford this) I wasted £1000’s before only to be refused the nisi - how do o go about this? Obviously my husbands solicitor can’t submit for me as he is representing my husband so can’t me too?