Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Dealing with a Pension Divorce

LOL Just divorced. And no, that's not my car.
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Divorce rates have risen considerably for the over-50 demographic. In the US, for example, the rate at least doubled between 1990 and 2009. In fact, the number of divorcees over the age of 50 now exceeds the number of widowed seniors in the US. Likewise, in the UK, divorce rates for those over 60 years of age are now seven times higher than they were in the 1950s.

While statistics show that the likelihood of a couple getting divorced decreases the longer they are married, we are still seeing a spike in the number of pension-aged couples looking to split. In fact, the New York Times recently reported that divorces in the over-50 category have outpaced those of younger demographics.

Any time a marriage ends, a variety of problems come into play. The following are just a few of the most common:

  • Economic strain
  • Poor health
  • Strain on the extended family
  • The need for government sponsored assistance

When younger couples get divorced, the stakes are generally lower. For example, married couples around the age of 30 are less likely to have children or substantial assets that need to be divided. Pensioners, on the other hand, have a lifetime of property and assets to contend with – not to mention an extended family that has only ever conceived of the couple as a unit.

However, one financial consideration that deserves more attention than it receives has to do with the pension itself. You see, getting a divorce can actually affect the amount of your pension. And it’s not as if the amount is simply cut in half and divided amongst the two. The actual algorithm employed is much more complicated, which makes it all the more important to seek the advice of family law solicitors before going through with the divorce. At the very minimum, both parties need to understand how this dramatic change is going to affect their finances.

Generally speaking, there are three common ways to deal with a pension in divorce:

1. Pension Off-Setting


In this situation, the pension is drawn entirely by one person (who is, more often than not, the husband). In its place, the financial equivalent to sum total of the pension is given to the other party in the form of cash, property and other assets.

This is often a more attractive option when one person has been the primary income earner for the family. In this case, the person may feel like their pension is a direct extension of their professional performance. It is a personal asset that results from years of hard work. With that in mind, splitting the pension after a divorce may make the person feel uncomfortable. 

2. Pension Splitting


This is precisely what it sounds like. The pension is simply divided evenly between the two people when the divorce is finalised. There are usually a couple of options in this scenario. Half of the pension can be withdrawn and deposited into a different scheme. Likewise, the entire sum could remain in the original scheme and simply be paid out in halves to both parties over time. This is usually only an option where government agencies have introduced specific legislation. 

3. Pension Earmarking


This is a less common approach to settling the pension. In this case, a portion of the pension is legally attached to spouse. When he or she retires, this portion will be paid as a pension benefit.

Valuing Your Pension before Divorce

If a divorce is on the horizon, it is essential that the couple arrange a pension valuation. This ensures that both parties understand exactly how much they are going to receive form a split pension in the future. This is complicated business, and you will almost certainly require legal assistance to effectively determine this.

Valuing a pension is going to cost a bit of money up front, but it is most certainly worth the expense – especially if the size of the pension is going to play a critical role in one or both person’s quality of life after the divorce.

Divorce is painful and rarely easy, and the difficulty in divvying up a pension only adds to the stress and anxiety. That’s why it’s so important to fully discuss your options with an attorney before going through with the split.


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