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The difference between Decree Nisi and Decree Absolute

The Decree Nisi is a certificate that says the court doesn’t see any reason why you can’t divorce or separate. However, it does not legally end your marriage. The final stage of a divorce is the Decree Absolute that is the final order to legally end your marriage or civil partnership.

Louise Chipchase, Managing Partner at the Stowe Family Law office in Cheltenham joins us on the blog to explain the difference between a Decree Nisi and a Decree Absolute.

What is a Decree Nisi?

Decree Nisi is often referred to as the “first stage”. It is the first decree of a divorce. The Decree Nisi does not bring the marriage to an end. At this stage, the couple remains married in the eyes of the law and can still move back from finalising the divorce at this stage. 

The Decree Nisi signifies that the petitioner is entitled to the divorce and that the procedural and legal requirements have been met; meaning the paperwork has been completed and served correctly and the reason/details provided for in the divorce petition are sufficient. 

The Decree Nisi is a very important part of the divorce process as it allows the court to approve or make a financial order to settle matrimonial finance claims between the parties. 

How do I apply? 

To apply for a Decree Nisi, you must complete form D84 and the relevant D80 form (Apply to the court for a decree nisi, conditional order or (judicial) separation decree or order). 

The D84 form itself is relatively straightforward but some parts of the D80 form can catch people out, particularly sections relating to any periods of separation or where parties have been apart but under the same roof. 

It is necessary within the form to acknowledge and deal with any minor errors that might have arisen in the petition and to deal with any claim for costs in the petition, either by reiterating that claim, withdrawing it or compromising it in some way. 

Once in receipt of the Decree Nisi, the petitioner must wait a period of 6 weeks and 1 day before they can apply for the Decree Absolute, which will bring the marriage and the proceedings to a conclusion.

What does a Decree Nisi look like? 

You can view an example Decree Nisi here. 

Please note this relates to a petition based on adultery and some of the wording would be different were it relating to behaviour/2 year separation or 5-year separation.

What is a Decree Absolute and do I have to keep it?

Decree Absolute is the final decree of divorce and legally ends the marriage. 

You should keep your Decree Absolute as you may require it if you remarry or seek to change back to your maiden name.

Should I delay applying for the Decree Absolute?

There are significant implications of the Decree Absolute and it is best to finalise any financial settlement before applying for a Decree Absolute. 

There are scenarios in which it might be advisable to delay application for Decree Absolute as the grant of Decree Absolute can affect the following areas:


Once the Decree Absolute is granted any reference to a former spouse in your Will is ineffective. If a  Will has a former spouse as executor or beneficiary this may have implications and people should ensure a new Will is made at the time of the divorce. 

Pension benefits

If a former spouse dies after the grant of a Decree Absolute they will lose any spousal benefits that may have been payable to you under the terms of any pension as a widow or widower. 

Occupation of property

If you live in a home that is in your former spouse’s sole name then your right to occupy that property will come to an end on the grant of Decree Absolute. You can secure your right to remain there beyond the Decree Absolute, by way of a court order.


If your former spouse was to die without a Will before Decree Absolute, you would be entitled to inheritance. After a Decree Absolute, you lose the automatic inheritance entitlement that you would have had as a widow or widower 

Financial claims

Financial claims between spouses can continue to exist beyond the point of the Decree Absolute if they have not been formally dealt within in the divorce proceedings.

It is important to deal with all financial matters before applying for the Decree Absolute if possible. If not, it is not advisable to remarry until all financial claims have been dealt with or any claim will be lost to a former spouse. 

How do I apply for/get a Decree Absolute?

To apply for a Decree Absolute, you must complete the form D36 (Ask the court to make a decree nisi absolute, or a conditional order final). 

It is worth noting that if you do not apply for a Decree Absolute within 12 months of getting the Decree Nisi you will have to explain the delay to the court.

What does a Decree Absolute look like? 

You can view an example Decree Absolute here. 

Please note this relates to a petition based on adultery and some of the wording would be different were it relating to behaviour/2 year separation or 5-year separation. 

How do I get a copy of my Decree Absolute if I have lost it?

If you lose your decree absolute, you can apply to the court for a copy.

Here is our guide regarding divorce, decree asbolute and how to apply.

Get in touch

If you would like any further advice on the difference between Decree Nisi and Decree Absolute, divorce or other family law issues please do contact our Client Care Team to speak to one of our specialist divorce lawyers here. 

I have extensive experience in all aspects of family law and frequently represent clients in high-net-worth cases whether they are wishing to protect their wealth or ensure their financial future is secure; adopting a strategic and compassionate approach throughout.

Contact us

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