Pension poverty after divorce

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Ensuring an equal division of all the assets within the matrimonial pot

The breakdown of a marriage is often referred to one of the most traumatic and stressful events anyone can go through. Divorce can also be a costly experience, often including legal fees, a new home, a new car and new childcare costs. So, it’s perhaps predictable that so many need to rely on savings or credit cards for support during this time.

When dealing with finances on divorce, the starting point is an equal division of all the assets within the matrimonial pot. It’s critical that, as part of the separation process, couples take time to think about and discuss one of their single most valuable assets, their pension.

Relevant factor in any divorce

It’s common that one party will have significant pension provision, and the other party may have little or none. Clearly, this could be a relevant factor in any divorce.

Figures[1] show that in 2020 there were 103,592 divorces granted in England and Wales, but with a new law that came into force on 6 April 2022 making it much easier for couples to get divorced through a ‘no fault’ plea[2], this figure is likely to increase in the coming years.

Impact of divorce on finances 

Thinking about family finances may be the last thing couples want to do at this difficult time. However, it’s important to understand the impact that divorce will have on finances, including pensions.

The UK currently holds £15.2 trillion pounds in household wealth[3]. Private pensions represent the biggest single component of this wealth – at around 42% of the total (£6.4 trillion). Agreeing a fair separation of this pension wealth at a time of divorce will be critical to the future financial wellbeing of both parties.

Average age reaches an all-time high 

As a result of divorce, as many as nearly one in five (19%) say they will be, or are, significantly worse off in retirement. The average age for getting divorced has reached an all-time high of 47 years and 5 months for men and 44 years and 9 months for women[4], so it’s fair to assume that the levels of wealth accumulated in couples’ pension pots may also be fairly high.

The research suggests that one in seven (15%) of divorced people didn’t realise their pension could be impacted by getting divorced and more than a third (34%) made no claim on their former partner’s pension and it was not included as an asset in the settlement when they did divorce.

Significantly worse off in retirement

Worryingly, almost one in twelve (8%) divorcees say they didn’t have their own pension savings as they were relying on their partner to finance their retirement. As a result of divorce, as many as one in five (19%) say they will be, or are, significantly worse off in retirement. It’s critical that, as part of the separation process, couples take time to think about and discuss one of their single most valuable assets, their pension.

To supplement their income following a divorce, a third of divorcees (32%) said they dipped into their savings; one in five (20%) used credit cards for everyday living expenses; a similar number (18%) borrowed from friends or family; and just over one in seven (15%) regularly sold clothing/toys/other household items just to make ends meet.

Future retirement income at risk

One in eight (12%) respondents admitted to having to go out to work, having not worked before their divorce, or get a second job (10%). Worryingly, one in eight (12%) also cut back, or cancelled, their pension contributions – putting their future retirement income further at risk.

There are several options available to the Family Court when dealing with pensions at divorce – pension sharing, earmarking and offsetting against other assets[5]. It can often be a very complex issue so, as well as hiring a family lawyer, couples should consult a professional financial adviser to walk them through the pension valuation and financial process.

How can we help with your pension?

If you're going through a divorce, one of the many things you’ll need to think about is your pension. What will happen to it? Who will get what? These are important questions to ask, because pensions can be a significant asset in a divorce settlement. If you would like to discuss your options, please contact us.

Source data:

The research was conducted by Censuswide between 07/04/2022–13/04/2022, with 1,008 respondents who have been through a divorce in the UK. Respondents are referred to as divorcees or divorced people throughout.

[1] Divorces in England and Wales – Office for National Statistics (ons.gov.uk)

[2] New divorce laws will come into force from 6 April 2022 (gov.uk)

[3] Total wealth: Wealth in Great Britain (ons.gov.uk)

[4] Divorces in England and Wales – Office for National Statistics (ons.gov.uk)

[5] Aviva Adviser: Pension and Divorce (avivab2b.co.uk)

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