Decree Nisi: Can your divorce petition be contested?


According to the Law Society, defending a divorce petition is rarely an advisable step to take.

A Decree Nisi is a legal document that says that the court does not see any reason the parties cannot divorce; the court will also have to be satisfied that the legal and procedural requirements to obtain a divorce have been met. On its own, it is not enough for the marriage to end but it says that a party can move forward to obtaining an official divorce (obtained through a later decree absolute).

When applying for a Decree Nisi the petitioner must fill in a statement confirming that what is said in the divorce petition is true. If the judge agrees, the court will send a certificate. This may take several weeks. The certificate will tell the time and date a Decree Nisi will be granted; the relevant parties will still be married after the decree nisi has been granted. There are 43 days (6 weeks and 1 day) to wait before an application can be made for a ‘decree absolute’ to end the marriage.

The primary way to contest the Decree Nisi is to contest that the ground (the irretrievable break down of the marriage) for divorce has been met. This must be done within 7 days from which the petitioner served the first petition for divorce.

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. You will need an exceptionally good reason if you choose to go down this route. It is even more difficult to advise on what kind of reasons would suffice hence it may only serve to prolong and increase the cost of the proceedings. The petition would be listed for a case-management court hearing’ where you present your objections supported by evidence, to the judge.

If no answer is sent to court within this time, the petitioner can continue 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 followed (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.

It should be noted, however, that the divorce process is changing to a ‘no-fault divorce’ system, with The Government having suggested its implementation date of Spring 2022. This will create a two-stage divorce process. The Decree Nisi will be called a ‘Conditional divorce Order’, and the Decree Absolute will be called ‘Final Divorce Order’ The six weeks and 1-day time-lapse from the Decree Nisi and Decree Absolute will remain in place but, in addition, there must also be no less than 20 weeks from petitioning a divorce to the date that somebody applies for the Decree Nisi (or the conditional divorce order as it will be called).

CourtTogether can support you with preparing your divorce petition. We would strongly recommend that you discuss your application with your spouse before filing it with the court. The ideal scenario is to agree on why you wish to divorce. It will save you both much time, money, and heartache overall. We can show you the best way forward managing the process with you, making your divorce as easy as possible.

How to apply for decree nisi here.

Family law in the UK