Info & Advice

Do I have to go to court for a share of my partner’s pension?

Yes. While other assets can be divided directly with your estranged spouse, pension sharing does require court intervention. Pension providers cannot make such a major change without a legally binding order.

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But let’s start at the beginning.

One of the first things new parents discover is the sheer amount of time required to parent them fully and care for them properly. It’s hard – verging on the possible – for two fully employed parents to meet the needs of a child without a great deal of help: and most families just don’t have access to anywhere near enough. Once their allotted maternity and paternity leave has been used up, this pressure frequently pushes new parent towards a situation in which one parent begins working part time or even gives up work entirely to focus on childcare. Traditionally, it has been mothers who have taken this step, but as an increasing number of high-flying career women out-earn their husbands, Dads are also opting to stay home.

Overtaken careers

Returning to full time work, or any employment at all, when the children get a little older can be tricky. The childcare-focused parent will no longer be quite as employable as they once were following their career break, and even if they do find new work, they will still need to ensure their children get to school on time. Childcare services are notoriously expensive.

As the years pass, the childcare-focused parent may end up earning a lot less than their husband or wife, with less surplus income to set aside for their pension.

If the couple stay together, this may not matter much, but what if the relationship breaks down and they divorce? Pension sharing orders were designed to address exactly this situation.

Just what is a pension sharing order?

A pension sharing order is a legal declaration that a portion of one partner’s private pension funds should be transferred to the other, even if they are using an entirely separate pension scheme.

This ensures that the poorer partner has access to least some level of pension provision, and of course, they will be able to continue making their own contributions after the order has been approved by the family court. If issued in later life, a pension sharing order can also enable a ‘clean break’ divorce or dissolution by removing the need for spousal support payments. In a clean break divorce, the separating partners have no ongoing financial links with each other.

Do note, however, that these orders can only apply to private pensions. State pensions cannot be divided in this way.

Normally, the would-be recipient applies for a pension sharing order during the financial settlement proceedings, declaring their intention as part of their initial application. Both parties then need to declare details of their pension scheme and the value of their funds on the standard Form E.

Pension providers will have four months from approval of the order and completion of the divorce to transfer the funds.

What is the usual pension division?

In most cases, the division will be 50:50, but, as with financial settlements in general, it is possible to argue in court for an unequal division – for example, if the more prosperous partner made significant pension contributions before the marriage.

Pension sharing is only one of a number of options for retirement provision when couples separate, and it may not be the right one for you: an expert family lawyer can advise.

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