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Pensions and Divorce. What’s Your Entitlement to Ex’s Pension?

Article by Sarah Pennells of SavvyWoman.co.uk
Many women who get divorced don’t realise how important the pension can be. Don’t ignore it.
For most couples who go through a divorce, deciding what happens to the family home is the biggest financial decision they have to make. It’s easy to see why. Your home is a tangible object and you can work out – reasonably easily – what it’s likely to be worth. It may also have huge emotional importance. The same cannot be said for a pension. It’s not only divorcing couples who find pensions a bit of a mystery, many divorce lawyers do as well. However, it can mean you lose out and – if you do – making up the shortfall can be difficult, if not impossible.

Q. In a divorce, who gets the pension?

A. The answer isn’t straightforward (no surprise there!) and couples can split the pension in different ways. The three options are to divide it at the time of divorce (it’s called ‘sharing’ but it’s essentially splitting the pension), to ‘earmark’ some of the pension, which means that some of the fund is sort of ringfenced and paid to the wife of the pension plan holder (or husband) when they retire, while the third option is to offset the value of the pension against something else (such as the house).
Q. Which option is best?
If you have the choice, splitting – or sharing – your pension at the time you get divorced is the best option. Earmarking it brings with it all kinds of problems – the main one being the fact that you can’t start to take your pension until your ex husband takes his and you have no right to get sent pension statements etc. If your divorce is acrimonious it may be that your ex decides he’d rather keep you in the dark.
Offsetting is a useful option in some circumstances  but it can make it much harder to ringfence some of the asset for your retirement.

Q. Do I have an automatic right to join my ex husband’s pension scheme?

The short answer is that you don’t.  Not all pension schemes accept what’s called a ‘pension credit’ member – which means someone who’s entitled to join a pension scheme because they’ve got divorced or their civil partnership has dissolved (it’s nothing to do with the state benefit called ‘pension credit’).
If you aren’t able to join your ex’s pension scheme, you’ll be given a lump sum that you can then pay into your own pension.

Q. Will I always get half my husband’s pension?

No, there’s no reason why you would necessarily get half his pension; you may get none of it, less than half or more than half. For example, if the pension is supposed to be split to give you and your ex husband an equal income in retirement you may receive a larger share of it.
Women live longer than men so a pension fund that’s split in two would give a man a higher level of pension on a yearly basis. From the end of 2012, pension companies will no longer be able to take gender into account when working out how much retirement income a lump sum would generate, so it will be interesting to see what effect that has on the way pensions are divided in divorce.
Q. What about the state pension?
The state pension is – in some ways – more straightforward than private pensions because you can use your ex husband’s National Insurance record to claim a basic state pension on his entitlement for the years during which you were married or for the whole of his NI record up to the date of divorce (whichever generates the bigger pension). 
It won’t affect the pension he receives and he doesn’t even have to know about it. However, you do have to know his National Insurance number in order to claim using his NI record and your ex husband has to have reached state pension age in order for you to claim your state pension on his NI record, although he doesn’t have to have started claiming his pension.
You’re not automatically entitled to a share of your ex’s additional state pension (which could be SERPS or the state second pension, or a mixture of both), although if your husband’s private or work based pensions are divided the SERPS or state second pension may also be taken into account.

There’s more information about pensions and retirement and divorce and breakup on SavvyWoman.co.uk.

Photo credit Grant Cochrane

Sarah Pennells

Sarah is the founder of SavvyWoman.co.uk, a website aimed at smart women aged 30+ who want to get more from their money. Sarah is a personal finance journalist and author who has written three books; about money and relationships, divorce and finance and green and ethical money. Sarah regularly appears on BBC1's Breakfast programme as a finance expert and reported on consumer and finance issues on the programme for several years. She also writes for a number of women's magazines. www.savvywoman.co.uk

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  1. ntathu allen

    July 17, 2011

    Thanks for sharing this info. Am in throes of divorce n its great to read clear impartial advise amongst all the emotional trauma and upset.

  2. Ade Oduyemi

    July 24, 2011

    A brief and clear exposition.
    The penultimate sentence of the first paragraph hits the nail on the head.
    I’ve come across client’s who’ve previously been involved with divorce lawyers who’ve been baffled by the inheritance position of the parties to the divorce.
    Pity is the divorcees even those minded to be generous or fair to their spouses are often unaware of their rights, obligations or benefits.
    There’s only one thing for it, to talk to an expert such as Sarah

  3. Nola Baldwin

    August 9, 2011

    Really valuable advice that a lot of women including myself do not consider when divorcing. It was the last bit that I think will help a lot of women. I know that my ex was the main bread winner and I lost a lot of NI in staying home to look after the children.

  4. Lin Manning

    August 7, 2012

    I divorced in 1984 – am i entitled to claim on my ex-husband’s state pension or his private pension. If so, how do i go about this?

  5. Gareth Farman

    May 10, 2013

    If a couple have been separated for many years, but not divorced does the partner who stayed at home to bring up the child still have a right to the partner’s pension.

    A very good friend never properly divorced her husband and they are now both retired. He has two occupational pensions but she has nothing.

    If he passes away, does she still have a right to the pensions, if in the original agreement?

    Can she claim a part of his pension?

  6. patricia

    June 26, 2013

    I divorced my husband in the 1980’s after three years of marraige. He is soon to retire from the police.
    Would I be entitled to receive any part of his pension?
    I struggled to raise my son until I qualified as a therapist in 1989. It took til 1995 for me to getcinto full time employment when I took on a pension via my employer.

  7. JILL

    August 29, 2013


  8. Barbara Lawler

    October 18, 2013

    can spouse and I use one of those divorce kits like Diy if we have retirement pay involved?

  9. Norma Tomlinson

    January 20, 2014

    I was married to my husband for 33 years, nobody will tell me how to claim some of his state pension to make up my own, I have written to the pension service and they just keep sending me pension forecast telling me I have only 21 years and I need 30 years, in all our married life I worked for him on the farm didn’t take any money and paid no insurance, but had a couple of little jobs along the way, I also brought up our 5 children, then we divorced in 2010 but I know he won’t give me his national insurance number, where do I go from here

  10. Stuart Margitson

    August 9, 2014

    My ex wife has e mailed me, over 5 years after our divorce, to say she now wants a share of my pension.
    This was never discussed at the time of the divorce, and all jointly owned property assets have been amicably divided 50/50.
    Our children were grown up and my ex wife moved to Spain.
    We did not get a divorce through solicitors.
    Can she come back after her pension “rights” so long after the divorce?

  11. Schelly

    February 29, 2016

    my ex husband already started drawing his pensionI was awarded half but my Quadro was denied and is being worked out. So when I start receiving my half will that cut his check in half?

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