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Divorcing couples need pensions advice – survey

Divorce was the second biggest cause of a derailment of retirement plans according to the Great British Retirement Survey, but financial advice is often not taken during divorce proceedings.

The survey of 12,000 UK adults found that 11% of those who said their retirements had due to a ‘major life event’ cited the break-up of their marriage.

Among other big events causing retirement plans to go wrong were personal illness (24%) and death of a partner (8%).

Less than half (41%) of divorced respondents said they had discussed pensions when they got divorced, while 57% said they did not discuss pensions. Men (50%) were more likely to say they had discussed pensions than women (30%). Divorcing couples with children were also more likely to discuss pensions (45%).

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Investment platform Interactive Investor, who carried out the survey, said understanding the financial implications of a split may not be immediately obvious and that most divorcing couples would benefit from taking financial advice.

Becky O’Connor, head of pensions and savings at Interactive Investor, said: “People are suffering financial hardship as a result of divorce that is avoidable with better guidance. The high proportion of people who do not discuss pensions during divorce proceedings is worrying.

“Along with a family home, a pension is likely to be one of the biggest joint assets that a couple builds up during their life together.

“Despite the introduction of the Welfare Reform and Pensions Act 1999, which introduced the concept of pension sharing as a solution for a former spouse to share in the pension rights of their ex-partner, there remain countless examples of divorce settlements that leave one partner, usually the woman, worse off in retirement.

“This is partly down to lack of understanding of the value of a pension but also a lack of awareness of rights to a spouse’s pension on divorce, as well as greater emotional attachment to – and value placed on – the family home, rather than the pension.

“We often hear of cases where women choose the property and ‘let’ their husband keep the pension. This probably isn’t the most financially sound decision, particularly as not only do women not generally have the same level of private pension provision, a lack of qualifying years also means they are unlikely to have built up as much state pension entitlement as their husbands.

“It might be desirable to continue living in the family home for many good reasons, but women need an income to live off, too.

“Unfortunately, financial advice is not always taken at the same time as legal advice during divorce proceedings. Some people may consider it too expensive, on top of so many other expenses.

“It’s vital to talk about pension sharing as a couple if one of you takes time out of work and it’s also important to know how much your spouse’s pension is worth.”

Interactive Investor surveyed over 12,000 UK adults during 2020 in collaboration with global market research consultancy CoreData.

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