Recent research shows that a majority of women have not protected their pensions in the event of divorce; Liz Allen, partner and head of the Family Team, examines the issue and options available to married women.

Despite the law changing almost 20 years ago to make sharing pensions on divorce much easier, it seems as though women are still missing out.

According to a new study from Fidelity International – based on a poll of 2,000 UK adults – 56 per cent of women don’t have arrangements in place to protect their pensions if they divorce.

The research also found that 12 per cent of married women planned to rely on their spouse’s pension during retirement, while 17 per cent had no pension of their own.

This supports other research, including a report from earlier this year by pension firm Scottish Widows which found that pensions are only discussed in about 30% of divorces.

Historically it has been women who have been in the more vulnerable position financially when looking at where the assets lie at the start of the divorce process. In my experience, that remains the case as women tend to be the ones to take breaks from their careers to look after children. That said, I have had an increasing number of men over recent years applying for spousal maintenance from their more financially successful wives (although they are still very much in the minority).

The latest data from the Office for National Statistics (undertaken between 2014 and 2016) shows that the average divorced woman over the age of 50 will have a pension worth on average three times less than a married couple of the same age.

Pensions worth more than a family home

In the early 2000s the law changed to allow pensions to be shared on divorce. However, it seems that women in particular are reluctant to claim what is rightfully theirs. In some cases pensions can be worth more than a family home, so there is a lot at stake.

Many people do not understand that pensions have a capital value that can be divided on divorce – they usually just think of them as future income and they are often ignored if they are not yet in payment. The fact is that pensions can be shared both when they are already in payment and when they are yet to be drawn.

Although specialist advice is required, particularly for high value and complex pension schemes, the fact that pensions are shareable at the time of financial settlement means that you do not have to wait until your ex has retired before claiming that asset. However, it seems that many people are unaware of this.

Barriers to achieving long term financial security

The biggest barrier to women claiming a share of their ex’s pension is lack of awareness. Despite the law being changed so long ago, the message does not seem to have got through to many people. That needs to change.

There are undoubtedly financial barriers for some people which may put them off seeking specialist legal advice, however, measures like litigation loans or obtaining a legal services order from their more financially secure spouse to pay their fees, should open up the best advice to more people.