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What is divorce?

Divorce is the formal end of a marriage. The only ground for divorce is the irretrievable breakdown of marriage, as demonstrated by separation for 12 months. Fault is not relevant.

A divorce application does not provide for property settlement or issues relating to children, although children under 18 must be mentioned in the divorce application to ensure proper provision has been made for their welfare.

'Children of the marriage' include all children who were treated as members of the family at the time of separation.

When divorce is finalised

The divorce becomes final 1 month after the court makes an order for divorce. If there is an appeal about the validity of the divorce order, the divorce will not be final until 1 month after the appeal is determined.

The parties are free to re-marry after the divorce becomes final. The court will make a divorce order which officially confirms the date that the divorce has been finalised. This order will state that the court is satisfied that all of the requirements for divorce have been met.

Past terminology

Although divorce is the common term used to describe the end of a marriage, it was not used in the Family Law Act 1975 until August 2005. Before this date, the Act used terms such as: decree nisi, decree absolute and dissolution to describe the processes that ended a marriage. Orders made before these changes came into force will refer to this old terminology.

Nisi, (Latin term for 'unless') was a provisional decree (or judgment) that operated from the date that the court made the order for divorce until decree absolute legally ended the marriage.

The decree absolute occurred automatically 1 month and a day after the court order was given for the decree nisi. It was possible to shorten this period in special circumstances.

More information


Family Law Act 1975 (Cth)

  • Part 6—Divorce and Nullity in marriage
    • s. 55—when divorce order takes effect
    • s. 56—certificate as to divorce order
    • s. 59—re-marriage
  • Table A—lists relevant changes made to Act by Family Law Amendment Act 2005 (No. 98, 2005)
  • Schedule 1—Transitional arrangements in relation to decrees nisi made before 3 August 2005

See Family Law Act 1975 (Cth)(opens in a new window).

Family Law Amendment Act 2005 (Cth)

  • Schedule 1: Part 10—replacement of terms such as decree nisi, dissolution and decree absolute

See Family Law Amendment Act 2005 (Cth)(opens in a new window).