A decree absolute is a final ruling of a court. Most often used in divorce proceedings in the United Kingdom (UK), a decree absolute is the final step that makes a divorce both official and legal. It is often used in contrast with decree nisi, which is a temporary order given until the decree absolute is decided.
Though the procedure of divorce in the UK is relatively simple, many people are confused by the issuance of a decree absolute and its predecessor, the decree nisi. When a person applies for a divorce, the petitioner is first granted a decree nisi. In order to get this first step, the petitioner must show that the marriage has lasted at least one year and taken place primarily within a UK-governed region, such as England or Wales. If the couple does not meet the 12-month qualification, they may be able to receive an annulment, also called a nullity.
When filing a divorce petition in pursuit of a final decree, the petitioner must cite the reason for the divorce. Although it is acceptable to divorce on grounds of irreconcilable differences, the petitioner must provide evidence in one of five categories that explains why the marriage is irretrievable. These categories include adultery, unreasonable behavior, long-standing desertion, or mutual parting several years in the past. If the couple has been apart more than five years, the consent of the other partner is not needed to obtain a decree absolute.
Conditions being met, the court will send notification of the divorce request to the other spouse, known as the respondent. The notification will include a possible settlement arrangement that includes the distribution of assets, custody agreements, and spousal support requirements. In order to quickly move beyond the decree nisi order, couples should be in agreement on these items before the petition is filed. If the respondent agrees to the terms, he or she signs the notification and the court issues a decree nisi.
Six weeks after the decree nisi is ordered, the petitioner can file a request for a decree absolute. This procedure is not dissimilar from divorce law in the United States, where there is generally a waiting period between the judge admitting a signed divorce agreement and the decision becoming final. The major difference is that this type of decree requires a second request on the part of the petitioner, whereas in US law, the divorce becomes final by default unless the petitioner withdraws the request.
Once a decree absolute is issued, the divorce is final. This leaves participants free to remarry as soon as desired, even to one another. Keeping a copy of the decree is recommended by legal professionals, as some future legal transactions, including remarriage may require a copy as proof of a final divorce.