Family Lore Clinic: Can a decree nisi expire?


A divorce proceeds in two stages: the decree nisi, when the court pronounces that the party applying for the divorce (usually the petitioner) is entitled to it, and the decree absolute, which finalises the divorce. There has to be at least six weeks between the two, but sometimes the gap can be considerably longer - the court won't make the decree absolute until someone applies for it, and neither party may want to apply for some particular reason, most often because they are waiting for the financial/property settlement to be finalised.

So, does the decree nisi have an 'expiry date'? The answer is that it does not, but there is a proviso.

Where the application for the decree absolute is made more than twelve months after the making of the decree nisi, the court will want an explanation for the delay. It will also want to know whether the parties have lived together since the decree nisi, and whether any children have been born since the decree nisi. The most important point here is that if the parties have lived together for more than six months during that period, then the court may take the view that the marriage has not broken down irretrievably, in which case it may refuse the decree absolute and cancel the decree nisi.

Of course, if the parties have not lived together since the decree nisi then there should not usually be a problem, and the court should make the decree absolute.

As always, if you require more details or specific advice, you should consult a specialist family lawyer.

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