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Friday, 28 June, 2002, 23:04 GMT 00:04 UK
Divorcees shun pension rights
Divorcing couple
Pensions are often low priority for younger women
Thousands of women who ignore new pension sharing rights when they divorce could face an impoverished old age, research has warned.


With such high divorce rates, women look set to be the poorest pensioners of the future

Steve Webb
Liberal Democrats
A survey by the Solicitors' Family Law Association (SFLA) has found that women often neglect their husband's pension when negotiating their financial settlement, despite new pension legislation which allows them to make an immediate claim for part of the retirement income.

According to interviews with family lawyers, pension sharing often takes a "back seat" in negotiations because it is seen as too complicated or irrelevant for immediate needs such as a house or car.

The research is backed up by figures released on Saturday, which show that only 367 pensions splitting orders were made by the courts last year in 140,000 divorces.

Liberal Democrat shadow work and pensions secretary Steve Webb said the low take-up of pensions on divorce was "extremely worrying".

"For generations married women have been the poor relations when it comes to pensions," he said.

"With such high divorce rates, women look set to be the poorest pensioners of the future. "

Poverty in retirement

Under previous rules, a portion of the pension could be earmarked for the wife.

But the wife had to wait until her ex-husband retired before she could claim her pension.


People shouldn't let negative reporting or worries about complexity put them off considering the best way to deal with a valuable matrimonial asset

Jane Craig
SFLA chairman

During his lifetime, she would be forced to maintain contact. If he died, she would be left with nothing.

In December 2000, however, legislation was introduced which allowed the wife to claim a slice of her ex-husband's pension, giving her more security and control over her long-term future.

The rule ensures a clean break, and the woman can now get a guaranteed sum transferred into her own pension "pot", which can be invested.

This also means that she can now decide when she wants to take the pension and does not lose her right to it when her ex-husband dies.

Common reasons

The Solicitors' Family Law Association said there were a number of reasons why couples were reluctant to discuss pension sharing as an option.

  • Women may view a pension as exclusively their husband's and not a joint asset.

  • The family home was still the top priority with "bricks and mortar" perceived as more valuable and secure. For many people, a greater share of the family home would always be a higher priority when there were children to care for.

  • There was a previous agreement not to disturb the pension or a worry that considering a pension share might prevent agreements being made on other issues. "It might be a step too far" or there was a perception that it might "provoke disputes".

  • Pensions were seen as too complicated when people just wanted a straightforward solution.

  • Younger people (aged under 35) were often not concerned with pensions and long term considerations.

Pension importance

Jane Craig, chairman of the SFLA said that people should not be put off trying to get a portion of the pension because of the current stock market conditions.

"For some people the pension fund could be worth more than the equity in the family home," Ms Craig said.

"People shouldn't let negative reporting or worries about complexity put them off considering the best way to deal with a valuable matrimonial asset."

See also:

11 Apr 02 | Business
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21 Aug 01 | Business
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