What's the difference between a Decree Nisi and a Decree Absolute?
One of my biggest bugbears is when I read in the press headlines that someone has been granted a 'quickie divorce,' only to go on to read the article and see that the proceedings have only reached the stage of Decree Nisi being pronounced and therefore the parties are still legally married.
The pronouncement of Decree Nisi is essentially stage four in what is a five stage divorce process. At this point, the parties receive a formal certificate from the Court confirming that the marriage will be dissolved within six weeks, unless the Court receives evidence in the meantime that it should not dissolve the marriage. Crucially, the parties remain legally married at this time as the divorce is not finalised until the final decree, known as Decree Absolute, is pronounced.
A person acting without legal advice might not realise that Decree Absolute is not pronounced automatically and the person who has taken the lead in issuing the proceedings (the "Petitioner") must make an application to the Court for Decree Absolute to be pronounced. The parties are legally divorced from the date that the Court issues the certificate of Decree Absolute.
I read in the press today that a gentleman in Wales has pleaded guilty to a charge of bigamy, as he married his second wife whilst still married to his first wife. The gentleman had issued divorce proceedings without the assistance of a solicitor and had never made the final application for Decree Absolute. He claimed to not have known he needed to do so. More worryingly, he had presented all of the paperwork to the vicar who had conducted the second ceremony, who failed to notice that only Decree Nisi had been pronounced, rather than Decree Absolute. In this case, the gentleman was fined £400 and ordered to pay £400 in court costs. However, the ultimate sanction for those who commit bigamy is to be sent to prison for up to seven years.
Whilst the divorce process may seem relatively straightforward, there are a number of pitfalls that can be avoided by seeking advice at the outset from a solicitor. I have a number of clients who have chosen to deal with the paperwork relating to the divorce process directly in order to minimise their legal costs, but they have the benefit of being given a full explanation of the process from the outset so that such mistakes are avoided. The gentleman in Wales may have thought that he was saving money by not seeking legal advice, but in the long run this turned out to be a costly mistake.
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