A decree nisi is a legal term that refers to a court order or decision that is not yet finalized. Sometimes used in divorce proceedings, a decree nisi may expire after a certain period of time, allowing the decision to be known as a decree absolute. The use of a decree nisi allows for the alteration of a judgment should new evidence be presented or new petitions filed before the waiting period expires.
Nisi comes from a Latin word that roughly translates as “unless.” Thus, a decree nisi means that the judgment is final unless some reason is presented that would alter terms or orders. Generally, the idea behind a judgment of this kind is to allow major parties extra time to produce evidence or file alternative petitions. Though used quite infrequently, this form of judgment remains common in family law courts throughout the United Kingdom, and may influence divorce law in other regions.
The use of a decree nisi is common in divorce proceedings, partly because divorce can be an emotionally stressful time with quite a few uncertainties that may alter agreements on division of assets and responsibilities. Parties in a divorce may not be able to rationally assess the circumstances and come up with a fair or logical division in the heat of early proceedings. Thus, the decree nisi allows a cooling off period after the initial judgment or acceptance of settlements, so that both parties may have a chance to assess needs better and make sensible changes.
Another reason that a decree nisi or similar “cooling off” period may be built into a divorce court process is the possibility of a reconciliation of the marriage. If a decree absolute is issued, the couple is officially divorced and must go through the legal marriage process again if they choose to reconcile. By filing a joint petition to dismiss a decree nisi because of reconciliation, the couple remains married in the eyes of the law and thus is saved the legal hassle of remarriage.
In areas where a decree nisi is standard procedure, divorcing spouses may have to sign and file a document requesting that the decree becomes absolute at the end of the waiting period. In some jurisdictions, simply allowing the waiting period to lapse allows the judge to make the decree absolute by default. Parties will usually receive copies of the decree after filing, with a detailed list of judgments and notification of the date that the decree will become final. When an absolute judgment becomes effective, another notification will be sent. It is important to keep evidence of the judgment absolute, as parties that wish to marry another partner may need to legally prove that they are divorced.