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How Long Does It Take To Get A Decree Nisi?

Posted on 15th November 2018

With courts backlogged across the country and an increase in the number of litigants in person (people representing themselves) in private family proceedings, it can seem as though the divorce process is taking longer and longer.

The questions which continue to arise are things such as 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, given 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 this 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example in a divorce relying on two years separation with consent, if the respondent applied to have the decree nisi rescinded before the decree absolute, on the basis that he was misled by the petitioner when deciding to consent.

(NB: the equivalent to the decree nisi in civil partnerships is a conditional dissolution order).

The application for a decree nisi

As long as the respondent has not given notice of his 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 (he should notify her in the document known as the ‘acknowledgement of service’). He then has a further 21 days from the date he sent the acknowledgement to send an ‘answer’ to court, explaining why he has 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. Most 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 her 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 her case, the judge may demand further information, or possibly list the case for a hearing at court where decisions about the management of the case are made.

Once decree nisi has been granted, this is usually the time that couples will consider financial proceedings regarding the division of their assets and future maintenance.

How long does it take?

As above, it is not possible to say exactly how long it takes to get a decree nisi. In a recent call to court to chase an application for decree nisi, I was told by a member of staff that they are currently asking for 8 weeks to process applications for decree nisi after the application has been put before a judge. This is just an estimate. Indeed, processing times vary and it is worth checking with individual courts.

As a guide, in a typical undefended case the timescales can look like:

  1. Petitioner files petition for divorce with the court
  2. Postal service of the petition on the respondent – (7 days later ) Respondent files acknowledgement of service with the court
  3. Court sends petitioner copy of acknowledgement from respondent – (If no acknowledgement from respondent is received, petitioner has to wait 28 days from the date the respondent was served with the petition)
  4. Application for decree nisi with supporting statement prepared by petitioner and sent to court
  5. Judge considers evidence (No exact time estimate available, as long as it takes for Judge to consider, can take months)
  6. Judge confirms date for decree nisi
  7. Pronouncement of decree nisi
  8. Application for decree absolute – (6 weeks+1day later)
  9. Decree absolute

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