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Pensions on divorce

Researchers: Hilary Woodward

Project overview

Pension provision in the UK is increasingly inadequate. Divorced women over 65 are particularly vulnerable as their median income is below the poverty line. Despite the extension of the divorce court’s powers,  judicial statistics show that the number of pension orders of any kind is low and remains well below Government predictions.

This is the first empirical study into pension sharing on divorce since its introduction in England and Wales in 2000. It was designed to provide an insight into when and how pensions are included in final divorce financial remedy orders. It examined the extent to which pensions are considered in divorce cases, either by solicitors or the courts; the circumstances in which pensions are likely (or unlikely) to be included in final settlements; and the alternatives adopted and rationales behind the approach.

The study included a survey of court files, interviews with practitioners and judges and expert assessment of data from a sub-sample of the court files. Its findings suggest that pension sharing is a positive addition to financial remedies but that it is the prerogative of a relatively privileged minority. Offsetting pension- against non-pension assets remains the most common way of approaching pensions on divorce but the economic rationality of the approach and the fairness of the outcomes were unclear, or questioned by the project pension expert, in a large proportion of cases.

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  • Hilary Woodward
    Cardiff Law School, Cardiff University

  • Director, Welfare
    Nuffield Foundation

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