Published on January 13, 2023

KISS – the phrase “Keep It Simple Stupid”, whilst rather forthright, can be a reminder not to overthink some things when getting divorced: for example, painstakingly trying to value all of your house contents is probably a waste of time. But not so for pensions and the idea of pension sharing – because pensions are complex and can be a much more valuable asset than you may realise. Only married people and civil partners can share their pensions upon dissolution of their relationship. The Court is tasked with considering whether the pension in those circumstances should be shared. Pensions are complex and can be a much more valuable asset than you may realise.

If you are divorcing or contemplating divorce then this is what you need to know:-

Two of the most important decisions that you will make about your divorce will be about timing and process: pushing on with a divorce when your spouse is reeling from the news could backfire very badly; and deciding how to sort your separation/divorce business out can be a critical decision determining what state your relationship with your ex will be in at the end. This is key if you have children or if you have warm relationships with your in-laws. Talking-round-a-table processes such as mediation and collaborative practice lend themselves very well to discussing how to sort out pensions.

Your spouse or civil partner’s pension is likely to be a matrimonial asset which can be shared. Clients will often say “he (or she) worked for it and earned it and I don’t want any of it”. The Court looks at contributions and, whilst your partner was earning their pension you were quite possibly bringing income into the relationship or staying at home keeping house and raising children: in other words, your marriage was a joint effort.

Cash equivalent value

Before you make any decisions about whether you want to share or have a share of a pension it is important to get its “cash equivalent value”. This is easily obtained and you are entitled to a minimum of one a year at no cost to you (Providing the pension is not in payment; if it is in payment you may pay a fee for the CEV).

The cash equivalent value of a pension is not a pound for pound accurate measure of the pension’s value – this is where things get complex and “apples and pears” becomes a good way of explaining why: a personal pension could be considered an “apple” whilst many occupational pensions (in particular public sector and “uniformed” pensions) are “pears”. This is because £10,000 of capital value of a police pension will buy you a whole lot more than £10,000 of a personal pension with, say, Scottish Widows or Standard Life. If there is a choice of pensions to share, and you share the wrong one, both parties may end up worse off than if the right pension were shared.

If you and your partner want to come to an arrangement where one of you keeps their entire pension and the other one gets more of the savings or the house – a pound of pension cannot be treated like a pound of savings or a pound of equity in your home so understanding the “offset” value of your pension will be important. This is a highly technical area

The particular rules of different schemes can inform how you should share pensions to both get maximum income from them.

So doing a quick calculation on the back of an envelope risks you losing out on income for the rest of your life at a time in your life when you could need it most – unless you can successfully sue your solicitor for negligence because they did the calculation on the back of the envelope.

Postscript. Additional reading material is contained in a number of books explaining the law and finances to people going through a divorce or separation. There is a range in our specialist shop. We have links to a number of organisations who offer additional advice and support on these pages. If you are considering looking for alternatives to going to family court, these pages have some useful material to read through.

Mary Shaw contributed to ‘Separating With Children 101’, 3rd edition, (Bath Publishing, 2023)

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Money and Finances

Sorting out money and finances or assets (what you and your ex acquired or built up that has economic value during your relationship) post separation can sometimes be contentious, especially if you are not married or in a civil partnership. Examples of assets would be the family home, land, business, pensions and savings. Knowing and understanding both your financial position and your ex-partner’s will provide clarity and help you understand each other’s commitments. The more transparent you are with your money and finances, the easier it can be to come to a conclusion which suits both of you. If you’re not honest and your ex-partner later finds out you tried to hide something, they could go to court and ask for more money from you.

How Are Assets Split In A Divorce?

It is a myth that all assets are split 50:50. The aim is for finances to be based on what is fair and that might mean you or your ex-partner not getting the same amount. In general the following areas are considered when trying to work out a fair settlement:

Dependent children

The financial needs and responsibilities of both parties The standard of living before the marriage breakdown The age of yourself and your partner The duration of the relationship, including any time spent living together before the marriage/partnership Any disabilities or health concerns that impact your day-to-day life The role each party played in the marriage, such as primary caregiver and breadwinner/primary wage earner. You may be able to negotiate your own financial settlement without any professional intervention; however, if there are considerable assets it is worth getting professional advice.

Can Mediation Help Sort Out Money And Finances When Separating?

If you can't agree on a settlement with your ex-partner then it is worth considering mediation. This is a cost-effective way of trying to resolve differences over money and property. You will both have to fill in a financial disclosure form when you go to mediation. This shows how much money you’ve got going out and coming in and it's a good starting point for discussions. We have lots of advice and support on this hub including helping you to choose the right professional support for your situation.

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