Recent research shows that a majority of women have not protected their pensions in the event of divorce; this article 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 survey by Schroders Personal Wealth in 2021: “UK women are missing out on around £5 billion of pension assets due to a lack of awareness of entitlements.” The research also revealed that “more than half of women are uncertain of their rights to their partner’s pensions during divorce. Moreover only 54.4% knew pensions form part of a divorce settlement.

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).

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.