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Am I entitled to a share of my divorced husband’s private pension?

I was left with nothing when I divorced my husband, so am I entitled to a share of his private pension? Steve Webb replies


My husband and I divorced. Our divorce didn’t state that we couldn’t share pensions, so I was wondering if I was entitled to a share of his private pension? 

As from 2016 I can’t use his National Insurance contributions and I was left with nothing and four children at the time. 

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Pension and divorce question: Our divorce didn’t state that we couldn’t share pensions, so I was wondering if I was entitled to a share of his private pension?

Steve Webb replies: Dealing with sharing pensions on divorce is a complex area and it is always good to get professional advice if at all possible. 

Although paying for advice can seem expensive, the cost can often be recovered many times over if you get a better deal as a result. But let me give you some general information about how the process works.

With regard to the state pension, as you suggest, the position of divorced people depends on whether you reached state pension age before or after 6th April 2016.

If you reached pension age before that date you come under the ‘old’ state pension system. 

Under that system, a person who was still divorced at pension age (so had not remarried) should benefit from their ex-spouse’s contributions up to the date of their divorce. These can be used to boost their basic state pension. 

Steve Webb: Find out how to ask the former Pensions Minister a question about your retirement savings in the box below

Steve Webb: Find out how to ask the former Pensions Minister a question about your retirement savings in the box below

In addition, any ‘additional’ state pension (often called SERPS) that an ex-spouse is entitled to can be shared, but only as part of a formal divorce settlement signed off by a court. 

Those who divorce *after* reaching pension age can get their basic state pension reviewed, but they must notify DWP of their divorce for this to happen.

For those who reach pension age on or after 6th April 2016, the new state pension system has very little provision for those who divorce. 

In particular, there is no general provision for using the contributions of an ex spouse to boost your own state pension. 

However, if your ex spouse had a relatively large state pension entitlement (one in excess of the standard flat rate) then any excess above the flat rate can in principle be shared. 

Again, this would have to be part of a formal divorce settlement.

In terms of private pensions, there are various ways in which someone who divorces can benefit from the pensions of their ex spouse, and different rules may apply in Scotland from the rest of the United Kingdom.

In England and Wales, the three main ways in which you can benefit from the pension of your ex spouse are:

  • ‘Pension sharing’, where you receive part of the value of your ex spouse’s pension at the point of divorce; this could be, for example, through a transfer from their pension into a new or existing pension in your name, or by making you a member of their occupational pension scheme in your own right; this is available for divorces after 1st December 2000.
  •  ‘Offsetting’, where the pensions of your ex spouse are valued and you get something extra *instead* of a share of their pension; for example, in return for not claiming a share of your ex spouse’s pension you might be able to negotiate a bigger share of the value of a family home;
  • Pension ‘earmarking’ (technically known as an ‘attachment order’), where you are given the right to receive a part of your ex spouse’s pension from their pension scheme; for example, if they are a member of an occupational pension scheme you would get a share of their pension when they draw it; this approach is much less used today than in the past, not least as it does not provide for a ‘clean break’ from your ex spouse.

There are pros and cons of each approach, and valuing pension rights is a highly complex business so it is very important to get professional advice if possible.

If you had a court order when you divorced then it would generally be very difficult to reopen that settlement now, even if there was no allowance made at the time for pensions.  

However, if there was no court order at the time it may be possible to get a court order now, and this could take account of pensions. 

But if a long time has passed since you divorced the court may not feel it is fair to open things up at this stage. Again you would need to take legal advice.

A very helpful guide for consumers on how pensions are handled on divorce can be found at: A survival guide to pensions on divorce | Advicenow.

Ask Steve Webb a pension question

Former Pensions Minister Steve Webb is This Is Money’s Agony Uncle.

He is ready to answer your questions, whether you are still saving, in the process of stopping work, or juggling your finances in retirement.

Steve left the Department of Work and Pensions after the May 2015 election. He is now a partner at actuary and consulting firm Lane Clark & Peacock.

If you would like to ask Steve a question about pensions, please email him at pensionquestions@thisismoney.co.uk.

Steve will do his best to reply to your message in a forthcoming column, but he won’t be able to answer everyone or correspond privately with readers. Nothing in his replies constitutes regulated financial advice. Published questions are sometimes edited for brevity or other reasons.

Please include a daytime contact number with your message – this will be kept confidential and not used for marketing purposes.

If Steve is unable to answer your question, you can also contact The Pensions Advisory Service, a Government-backed organisation which gives free help to the public. TPAS can be found here and its number is 0800 011 3797.

Steve receives many questions about state pension forecasts and COPE – the Contracted Out Pension Equivalent. If you are writing to Steve on this topic, he responds to a typical reader question here. It includes links to Steve’s several earlier columns about state pension forecasts and contracting out, which might be helpful.  

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