Women and Pension Sharing on Divorce
Historically, the division of pensions on divorce hasn’t always been afforded the same consideration as other marital assets and this has led some women to be at a disadvantage at retirement.
Even today, some divorce lawyers fail to advise women of their full rights in regard to pension sharing; in 2018 it was reported that a Scottish Widows survey found 71 per cent of divorcing couples failed to discuss pensions as part of the divorce financial settlement process. Furthermore, the same study found that 48 per cent of women and 41 per cent of men do not understand what should happen to pensions in the event of divorce. This is a problematic reality, particularly for women, for whom pensions parity should be considered an absolute priority.
Pensions are what most of us rely on for our financial security as we enter the final decades of life – if we do not have sufficient income from a pension, quality of life is reduced and we can quickly become vulnerable. Women suffer the most because traditionally, they are the ones who have taken time out of the workplace in order to focus on childcare and all the essential domestic tasks that are inherent in the upkeep of a family and a home.
Pensions often the most valuable asset
In 2019 Succession Wealth reported that a private pension is usually the largest single asset involved in divorces between high net worth couples.
The firm used the Office for National Statistics Wealth and Assets Survey and found that couples worth more than £1 million held 43 per cent of assets in private pensions and 31 per cent in property.
However, the firm reported that according to Ministry of Justice statistics, just 18 per cent of divorce financial settlements involve pension splitting or attachment orders.
Pension sharing – legal advice matters
Pension sharing is an essential component of a divorce financial settlement. Women contribute equally to a marriage, but because they have traditionally been the “homemakers” rather than the “breadwinners”, in comparison to men they tend to have fewer years of pension contributions, less earning capacity and are at a disadvantage with state pension rules.
In fact, many women assume that their husband’s pension will provide for them during retirement, but in the event of divorce, unless a pension is shared they can be left short of the cashflow they deserve and require.
Pensions should be considered alongside all other assets when determining a fair financial settlement. Given the historic inequity, legal advice is essential to ensure women do not lose out on what for many is either the most or second most valuable marital asset.
Legal advice gives women the opportunity to realise their full legal entitlement and to speed along the process to achieving a fair financial agreement. Women are most likely to suffer an unfair outcome if they lack legal representation, particularly as there is no legal requirement to include pension assets in a separation agreement unless financial proceedings are pursued through a court.
Pension sharing – how it works
Pension sharing orders are obtained through the courts and specify that one party to the relationship must receive a specified sum of the other party’s pension or pensions. The pension fund is assigned a transfer value and then the specified sum or percentage is transferred into the name of one of the divorcing parties (usually the wife), allowing for a clean break.
In cases where there is an age gap between the divorcing parties, the courts might order a deferred pension sharing order which then comes into effect once the younger partner begins to receive a pension.
In some cases, divorcing parties may agree to offset any pension funds against the value of other assets – most typically property. This allows flexibility. For example, the wife may wish to keep the marital home, allowing the husband to keep the pension. However, there are many complex factors to consider before agreeing on this course of action, so it is essential to take legal advice from a divorce lawyer before agreeing to offset a pension.
Also known as “earmarking”, this allows the non-pension member spouse to take a share of the pension as soon as the other spouse begins to draw pension income. This type of arrangement requires a court order. However, pension attachment orders are rarely advisable. This is because the non-pension holder spouse relies on the other spouse to begin drawing from the pension and may even lose out altogether if they remarry or if their ex-spouse dies before reaching retirement.
Contact Wellers divorce lawyers today
The divorce lawyers at Wellers Law Group can help you ensure that your full legal rights are respected during the divorce and financial settlement process.
This includes making sure you do not lose out on entitlement to the main marital assets, the family home and any pension fund.
We can help you obtain a valuation of the pension and will advise on suitable division so that you do not miss out. Contact us today for further information about sharing pensions on divorce.
Please call our Family Law solicitors for help or advice; call 020 8290 7992 for our Bromley team, 01732 446374 for Sevenoaks, 020 7481 6393 for central London or 01483 284567 for our Surrey team. Alternatively, you can email your enquiry to firstname.lastname@example.org. We offer a fixed fee, no obligation, one-hour interview so we may provide you with initial advice and suggest the options for your next steps.