When a marriage ends in divorce, one of the key parts of the legal process is to come to a financial settlement between both parties. In order to achieve this, they will need to declare all their assets. Aside from property, pensions can be one of the biggest financial assets that either party has, especially if couples have been together a long time. If there is significant difference in financial assets between each person, one option the court has is to make a pension sharing order. This is a court order for one party to transfer a specific percentage from their pension funds to the other person.
Pension share legislation was introduced in December 2000 to ensure provision for those who had reasonably been expecting their spouse to support them in retirement and therefore had minimal retirement provision. It is a very common consideration of many divorce proceedings.
We work with many local solicitors to support their clients once the pension sharing order is made. This is often, but not always, a female client acquiring pension funds from her former husband. Our adviser Paula Crawford is a specialist in this area. She works through the process from start to finish with the client and their solicitor.
How does a pension sharing order work?
Once divorce proceedings are underway both parties must submit documents regarding all existing pension arrangements. Sometimes the parties will agree or the courts may direct parties to arrange for an independent pension sharing report to be prepared where the pension assets for both parties are included and an indication of pension sharing to equalize assets is given. This is then used to ascertain how much should be transferred from one person to the other and to consider the options available to the parties.
The pension sharing report
When working with a client we receive the pension sharing report, which reviews the pensions of both parties. Often the report will provide options as follows:
1) To equalize the capital values of the pension funds, so both parties are left with a similar capital sum
2) To equalize the income from the pension, so both parties are left with a similar income in retirement.
There are a number of considerations on which legal advice should be sought in considering the options. This includes the type of pension or pensions, the transfer values, the age of each party and the length of the marriage.
Implementing the pension share
The report will include different options to achieve the pension share. Paula will work with clients to advise which is the best option. For example, if the pension in question is a defined benefit scheme often former partners will not be allowed to join the scheme. The scheme rules may mean they have to transfer their share into a pension of their own. We can arrange that for you. Alternatively the member may be able to join the scheme under their own name.
Other types of pension are generally more straightforward to split, and normally a share would be moved into a scheme of your own.
In some circumstances, the partner may wish to access a lump sum. This is quite common where the couple is over 55. In this case one partner may need cash to help buy a new house as part of the divorce process. Paula regularly advises on the best way to draw funds for house purchases.
What happens when there are several different pensions?
This is a common situation where a couple have been together a long time. It also happens where one person has worked for a number of different employers. It can make the pension sharing process more complex. However, Paula is able to review all the pensions and advise on the most straightforward way to access the share.
Can we help you with pension sharing ?
This is a very complex area. We feel you should have the benefit of separate and specialist financial advice together with your legal advice. If you are in the process of getting divorced and you need some independent financial advice please contact Paula Crawford. She is happy to speak to you and your solicitor about any aspect of pension sharing.