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Expediting the decree absolute

I vaguely recollect an occasion many, many, years ago when I was at the Royal Courts of Justice in London and I witnessed something slightly unusual. I can’t now recall why I was at the court, but I think I was waiting for the case I was involved in to come on. Whilst waiting, I witnessed a High Court judge in action as he went through prior cases on his list.

Now, as I say I don’t remember exactly what took place (this was probably the best part of thirty years ago), but the judge was dealing with a divorce case. There was some urgency about the case and the judge pronounced the decree nisi, immediately followed, as I recall, by making the decree absolute. This stuck in my mind, as I didn’t realise at the time that he had the power to do that – there must normally be a six week time period between the decree nisi and the decree absolute.

All of the above was brought to mind on Monday this week by the reporting of the judgment in Solovyev v Solovyeva. As those names suggest, the case involved a Russian couple. The couple went through the formalities of a divorce at the Russian Consulate in London. However, in a judgment on the 15th of May last, the President of the Family Division Sir James Munby held that that divorce could not be recognised in this country. Accordingly, the husband proceeded with a divorce in this country that he had issued back in July last year.

The husband’s petition came before the President on the 9th of June this year. The President duly pronounced a decree nisi of divorce. However, the husband wanted the six week period between the decree nisi and the decree absolute (which finalises the divorce) to be shortened (‘abridged’, to use the technical parlance), because he had become engaged to another woman, who could not obtain entry to this country as long as he remained married to his wife in the eyes of English law. Both he and his fiancée were anxious that this period of enforced separation between them should be brought to an end as soon as possible.

The wife did not object to this and the President considered that it was “entirely appropriate in the unusual circumstances of this case that the time for making the decree absolute should be abridged”. Accordingly, he directed that the decree nisi could be made absolute two days later, on the 11th of June.

As is clear from the above, and as I discovered myself after the events at the High Court all those years ago, the court does have power to expedite the decree absolute, and this is built into our divorce law, in section 1(5) of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, where it states that the court may fix a shorter period between the two decrees. For those who are interested, the procedure for making an application to expedite the decree absolute is set out in paragraph 8 of Practice Direction 7A to the Family Procedure Rules.

As the eagle-eyed amongst you may have noticed, section 1(5) refers to a period of six months between the decree nisi and the decree absolute, not a period of six weeks. This is because the period was originally six months (intended to give the parties an opportunity to reconsider), but this was subsequently reduced to six weeks. Obviously, applications to expedite the decree absolute would be far more common if the period was six months – with the period now being just six weeks they are actually quite rare.

Applications to expedite the decree absolute will only be granted in exceptional circumstances. Personally, I’m not sure that the circumstances in Solovyev were exceptional, but that’s just my opinion. The most common circumstances that are considered exceptional are where one party is dying and wishes to complete the divorce before their death, or where one party has formed a new relationship, is expecting a child by that relationship and wishes to marry their new partner before the child is born.

I should finish by pointing out that there are, of course, legal implications in finalising a divorce, and therefore anyone considering applying to expedite their decree absolute should take expert legal advice before doing so.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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  1. Andrew says:

    I once acted for a respondent whose wife’s partner was suddenly diagnosed with cancer with a very poor and short prognosis and they wanted to marry. On my client’s instructions to cooperate in every possible way I went with him to the court office at 10.00 a.m. where the wife’s solicitor issued a two-year petition and my client and I signed the form of acknowledgement giving consent. We saw the DJ who arranged for it to be heard by the Circuit Judge that day. He interrupted a trial at 3.30, heard the petition – in court, not by the special procedure – pronounced a decree nisi, and gave leave for it to be made absolute at once. Got the d/a clerk in and told her to do it then and there. And then thanked her for the trouble she had taken, and thanked both solicitors concerned – and my client – for their help.

    The couple were married by licence – now alas abolished – on the Thursday, and he died on the following Monday.

    • Marilyn Stowe says:

      Dear Andrew
      That’s absolutely fab. I think we all have those thankfully very rare cases where dire need requires everyone but everyone to fall in and do their best.
      And then we have those cases where we have to practically bang our heads on the wall and eventually we get there!
      Very well done indeed. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Sharon says:

    I wonder if you could help me please. I was very concerned about signing my decree absolut and the implications it might have on any financial settlement with my ex so I called my solicitor. I was told to just sign it and send it back. As yet I am still struggling to get any sort of settlement even discussed with the ex let alone agreed. Could you tell me what, if anything, changes by signing it? Settlement includes MFH and pensions. Thank you in advance.

    • Marilyn Stowe says:

      Dear Sharon
      Your solicitor should explain to you about this. If your financial settlement is not in place, and if you might lose out financially if your are divorced and your husband dies in the meantime or lose under a trust or company provision then it does matter. Ask you solicitor to clarify your position.

  3. Vicki says:

    Please help!
    I am due to get married on 18th December this year but my nisi isn’t due until 13th October. The last day we can give notice to apply for our marriage license is 17th Novemner and I won’t receive my decree absolute until aprox 10 days after this!
    The reason we want to get married so quickly is that my fiancées family are over from America and he hasn’t seen them in years and doesn’t know when he’ll see them again.
    We are just aprox 10 days short of all paperwork to comply with necessary deadlines.
    Would this be a case for consideration to reduce the time between receiving the nisi and the absolute?

  4. s says:


    My husband recently left me for a mutual friend whom is 23 yrs younger then him. I have since been diagnosed with aggressive cancer and do not know how long I may live. I want to divorce my husband as he will get my nhs pension if we are still married. He has told me he will drag his feet and not sign the papers so i cannot get a financial settlement from our assets. He will wait till I die. Is there any way the courts can force this divorce due to the medical circumstances. This is a very stressful time for me and I need to concentrate on my treatment

    Thanking you

    • Andrew says:

      You need a solicitor, not a blog. But yes, it can be done quickly. I once got from petition to absolute in a week but that was with the Respondent’s cooperation. This will take a bit longer – the real problem is the courts not being local any more. Good luck.

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