Decree Nisi in a divorce – how long will this take?
Covid-19 lockdowns have seen courts backlogged across the country when it comes to processing divorce petitions and applications in private family proceedings.
People often ask: is there a way that I can get a quickie divorce? There is no such thing as a quickie divorce. The time it takes for the court to process a divorce ranges from around 6 months up to a number of years, depending on the divorcing couple’s specific circumstances.
After a divorce petition is prepared and sent to court, and all the procedures complied with, the applicant can apply for decree nisi. The media fuels the quickie divorce myth by reporting on celebrities who get divorces in 5 minutes. This is usually referring to the court granting the decree nisi not the entire process.
What is decree nisi?
Decree nisi (a Latin phrase meaning ‘rule, unless’) is an order by the court which confirms that the ground for divorce has been met, in other words, the court is satisfied that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. Decree nisi does NOT end the marriage, rather it states the date on which the marriage will end unless a good reason not to grant the final divorce is produced.
Decree nisi is the first stage in the divorce process. Couples remain married until the divorce has been finalised by the granting of decree absolute.
A ‘good reason’ for not granting a divorce is, for example in a divorce relying on two years separation with consent, if the respondent applied to have the decree nisi overturned before the decree absolute, on the basis that they were misled by the petitioner when deciding to consent.
NB: the equivalent to the decree nisi in civil partnerships is a conditional dissolution order.
When can I apply for decree nisi?
As long as the respondent has not given notice of their intention to defend the case, the petitioner can file an application for a decree nisi with a supporting statement to confirm the contents of the initial petition.
A respondent who wishes to defend the case must notify the court and petitioner within 7 days from the date they are served the petition.
This is done by filing a document known as the ‘acknowledgement of service’. A respondent then has a further 21 days from the date the acknowledgement was sent to send an ‘answer’ to court, explaining why they have chosen to defend.
If no answer is sent to court within this time, the petitioner can proceed with the undefended procedure, with no hearing before a judge. The vast majority of divorces are not defended.
Where an application for decree nisi is made the judge must be satisfied that the procedures have been complied with (i.e. that: (1) the relevant time periods have lapsed, (2) that the case is undefended and (3) that consent has been provided where necessary). The judge will also consider the evidence to decide whether the marriage has irretrievably broken down.
If the judge is satisfied that the petitioner has proved their case, the judge will complete and file a certificate entitling the petitioner to a decree, and fix a date for the decree nisi to be read out in open court.
If the judge is not satisfied that the petitioner has proved their case, the judge may ask for further information, or possibly list the case for a hearing at court where decisions about the management of the case are made.
How long does decree nisi take?
If an undefended divorce proceeds smoothly, decree nisi should be granted approximately 4-6 months from issue. However, because there are a number of procedural steps involved (explained below), it is not possible to say exactly how long it takes to get a decree nisi.
It is certainly quicker to use the court’s online issue process than sending a hard copy of the petition for issue.
What happens at the decree nisi stage?
As a guide, in a typical undefended case the process and timescales can look like:
- Petitioner files online petition for divorce with the court
- Approximately 3-4 weeks petition issued and the petition is served on the respondent
- 7 days later Respondent must file acknowledgement of service with the court
- Court sends petitioner copy of acknowledgement from respondent. If no acknowledgement from respondent is received, petitioner has to try alternative service which may mean in person by a court bailiff
- Application for decree nisi with supporting statement prepared by petitioner and sent to court
- Judge considers evidence (no exact time estimate available, as long as it takes for Judge to consider, can take 3-4 months)
- Judge confirms date for decree nisi
- Pronouncement of decree nisi
- Petitioner can make application for decree absolute 6 weeks + 1day later after decree nisi.
- Decree absolute is pronounced usually within a week of the application
How long does decree absolute take?
If an undefended divorce proceeds smoothly, decree nisi should be granted approximately 4-6 months from issue, with decree absolute granted 6 weeks after this.