Decree Nisi holds significant significance within the UK family law system as it represents a crucial step towards finalizing a divorce. This stage indicates that the court has acknowledged the grounds for divorce as substantiated. In this essay, we will delve into the concept of Decree Nisi, outlining its definition, the legal framework encompassing it, and the implications it carries for couples pursuing divorce. Additionally, we will explore the broader impact of Decree Nisi on family law in the UK. Seeking guidance from a family law solicitor can provide valuable insights and support throughout the divorce process.
A. Definition of Decree Nisi
Decree Nisi is a legal term used in family law proceedings in the UK. It is an order of the court that states that a marriage has irretrievably broken down and that the court has no reason to object to a divorce being granted. Once a Decree Nisi is pronounced, it means that the court is satisfied that the legal grounds for divorce have been established.
B. Importance of Decree Nisi in UK Family Law
Decree Nisi is a critical step in the divorce process in the UK as it allows the parties to proceed to the final stage of the divorce. The Decree Nisi is a prerequisite for obtaining the final order of the court, the Decree Absolute, which formally terminates the marriage.
C. Historical background of Decree Nisi
The concept of Decree Nisi was introduced in the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857, which reformed the divorce laws in England and Wales. The Act allowed for divorce to be granted on the grounds of adultery, cruelty, and desertion. The Decree Nisi was introduced to provide a period of reflection for the parties and an opportunity for reconciliation before the final order of divorce was granted. Over time, the legal grounds for divorce have expanded, but the Decree Nisi remains an essential step in the divorce process.
Process of Obtaining Decree Nisi
A. Filing a petition for divorce:
The process of obtaining Decree Nisi begins with filing a divorce petition with the court. The petition must be filed by one spouse, known as the petitioner, and served on the other spouse, known as the respondent. The petition should contain the details of the marriage and the reasons for seeking divorce.
B. Service of the divorce petition:</strong>
After filing the divorce petition, the petitioner must serve a copy of the petition on the respondent. This can be done in person, by post or by using a professional process server. The respondent then has a period of time to respond to the petition.
C. Application for Decree Nisi:
Once the respondent has responded to the petition or has not responded within the specified time period, the petitioner can apply for Decree Nisi. This is a document issued by the court stating that the petitioner is entitled to a divorce on the grounds stated in the petition.
D. Consideration by the court:
The court will consider the petition and any responses from the respondent before deciding whether to issue a Decree Nisi. The court may require additional information or documentation before making a decision.
E. Issuance of Decree Nisi:
If the court is satisfied that the grounds for divorce have been established, it will issue a Decree Nisi. This is a provisional decree of divorce, which means that the marriage is not yet dissolved, but the parties are no longer legally married and can apply for a Decree Absolute to finalise the divorce.
The process of obtaining Decree Nisi can take several months, depending on the complexity of the case and the workload of the court. Once the Decree Nisi has been issued, the petitioner and respondent can negotiate the terms of the divorce settlement before applying for a Decree Absolute.
Grounds for Decree Nisi
In order to obtain a Decree Nisi, the petitioner (the person who initiates divorce proceedings) must satisfy the court that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. This means that the petitioner must establish one of the following five grounds for divorce:
A. Irretrievable breakdown of marriage:
This ground is the most common reason for divorce in the UK. The petitioner must demonstrate that the marriage has irretrievably broken down by providing one or more of the following evidence:
- The parties have lived apart for a continuous period of at least two years and both agree to the divorce.
- The parties have lived apart for a continuous period of at least five years, regardless of whether or not both parties agree to the divorce.
- The parties have experienced behavior from the other that has made it unreasonable to expect the petitioner to continue living with the respondent.
- The petitioner must prove that the respondent has committed adultery, and the petitioner finds it intolerable to continue living with the respondent.
- The petitioner must prove that the respondent has deserted him or her for a continuous period of at least two years.
If the petitioner decides to file for divorce on the ground of adultery, he or she must prove that the respondent has had sexual intercourse with a person of the opposite sex and that the petitioner finds it intolerable to continue living with the respondent.
C. Unreasonable behaviour:
This ground is the second most common reason for divorce in the UK. The petitioner must prove that the respondent has behaved in such a way that the petitioner cannot reasonably be expected to live with the respondent. The court considers the nature and effect of the respondent’s behaviour, as well as the petitioner’s ability to cope with it.
If the petitioner decides to file for divorce on the ground of desertion, he or she must prove that the respondent has deserted him or her for a continuous period of at least two years. Desertion is defined as the intention to end the marriage and the physical act of leaving the matrimonial home.
If the parties have lived apart for a continuous period of at least two years and both agree to the divorce, the petitioner can file for divorce on the ground of separation. If the parties have lived apart for a continuous period of at least five years, regardless of whether or not both parties agree to the divorce, the petitioner can file for divorce on the ground of separation.
It is important to note that in order to obtain a Decree Nisi, the court must be satisfied that the petitioner has provided sufficient evidence to prove that the marriage has irretrievably broken down.
Effects of Decree Nisi
A. Status of Marriage after Decree Nisi
A Decree Nisi marks the midway point in the process of obtaining a divorce. It is an official acknowledgement from the court that the petitioner has proved their case for divorce based on one or more of the grounds stated in the divorce petition. The respondent does not have to agree to the divorce for a Decree Nisi to be granted. After a Decree Nisi has been issued, the court will set a date for the Decree Absolute, which is the final stage of the divorce process.
B. Financial Arrangements and Property Rights
Once the Decree Nisi has been granted, the court can make financial orders, including orders for spousal maintenance, child support, and the division of assets and property. These orders can be made by consent between the parties or after a contested hearing. However, it is important to note that a Decree Nisi does not end the financial obligations between the parties, and they are still legally married until the Decree Absolute is granted.
C. Child Custody and Support
In most cases, child custody and support issues are dealt with separately from divorce proceedings, and a Decree Nisi will not affect any arrangements that have been made for the children. However, the court may make orders regarding child custody and support as part of the divorce proceedings if necessary.
D. Remarriage and Cohabitation
After a Decree Nisi has been granted, the petitioner and the respondent are still legally married until the Decree Absolute is issued. This means that neither party can remarry or enter into a civil partnership until the Decree Absolute has been granted. However, it is important to note that a Decree Nisi does not prevent either party from cohabiting with someone else.
Contesting Decree Nisi
A. Challenging the grounds for divorce:
In some cases, one party may wish to contest the granting of a Decree Nisi by challenging the grounds for divorce. This can be done by filing a notice of intention to defend and submitting a response to the divorce petition. The respondent can argue that the marriage has not irretrievably broken down or that the facts presented in the petition are not true. If the court agrees with the respondent, the application for Decree Nisi may be dismissed.
B. Disputes over finances and children:
Another reason a Decree Nisi may be contested is due to disagreements over financial arrangements and child custody and support. These disputes can be resolved through negotiations, mediation, or court proceedings.
C. Appeals and further legal action:
In some cases, a party may wish to appeal a decision to grant or not grant a Decree Nisi. Appeals can be made to the Court of Appeal or, in some cases, the Supreme Court. Additionally, if a Decree Nisi has been granted, but there are outstanding financial or child-related issues, further legal action may be necessary to resolve these matters.
In conclusion, Decree Nisi is a crucial step in the process of obtaining a divorce in the UK. It signifies that the court has accepted that the marriage has irretrievably broken down, and it allows the couple to proceed to the final stage of their divorce. While the process of obtaining a Decree Nisi is relatively straightforward, there can be disputes over financial arrangements, children, and the grounds for divorce, which may require further legal action. Understanding the process and effects of Decree Nisi can help couples navigate the often complicated and emotionally charged process of divorce in the UK.