Legal Sexism

Matt Pitcher's picture

Despite the big headlines about record settlements in such cases as McCartney/Mills, many women are getting a raw deal from divorce. The biggest issue I have found when dealing with divorcees is that their husband's pension has often not been factored in when agreeing on a split in assets. Even when the pension is factored in women often end up with the marital home as an offset against claiming part of their husband's pension.

The first issue is clearly unfair as this means that one party to the divorce is losing out financially because a proper assessment of the couples' finances has not been conducted. The losing party is often the woman as statistically women in divorce have 57%*1 of the pension service that men have.

It is difficult to understand exactly why pensions are sometimes ignored in divorce cases as the reasons given by solicitors can be vague 'not relevant in the foreseeable future'*1 is the most quoted reason. I believe though that it boils down to two factors; women settling for an amicable split and not all solicitors understanding pensions.

I have spoken to divorcees who didn't push for pension assets to be taken into account for the sake of the children, only to ruin their own financial future. Equally though, solicitors should not avoid a subject just because they may not have sufficient knowledge of it.

The second issue is more complex as many would argue that the increase in house prices has favoured women taking the property assets over pension rights. However the pension rights we are talking about are often Final Salary pension schemes with generous guaranteed pension incomes. I have advised several retired divorcees who are living in a property that is far too big for them and trying to get by on meagre pensions. Often downsizing the property is not practical or the emotional ties are too strong.

A fair settlement in divorce cases involves a complex but feasible calculation of the pension benefits to both parties and pension splitting of the husband's pension assets. This is complex and requires advice but is an excellent way of achieving parity in retirement provision whilst allowing for a clean break.

*1 Pensions and Divorce, DWP paper 50,

Matthew Pitcher is a wealth adviser and chartered financial planner at Towry Law Financial Service. He is also a Moneywise Ask the Professionals columnist.

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Your Comments

Circumstances vary; I'm in a final salary scheme and have always worked full time apart from maternity leave and a short period of part-time working. My husband wants to claim half my pension. Why should he be entitled to any of it? I have worked to keep us through many years when he has been unemployed or had a series of temporary jobs. Why should he be entitled to a share of my pension when he has failed to make provision for his own?


Interesting post, my comments assumed the average situation where women can get a poor deal as they have the lesser pension entitlement. Congratulations must go to you for managing to provide for your retirement and particularly for finding a final salary pension scheme. 

The question you pose raises an interesting debate. The assumption is that often the partner who ends up with the lower level of pension provision does so because of their provision of childcare. In this situation it is only right that the pension entitlement is equalised by the courts. Your situation is clearly different if your husband didn't provide for his own retirement through circumstances or choice.

I am no legal expert and perhaps the courts would view this reason for the difference in pension entitlement more favourable for you then if he had provided childcare. If they don't then I can forsee it is because it is difficult to legislate for this without harming those who have a need for pension sharing.

The breakdown of relationships is always going to be with us and one or other partner will always end up with less pension provision. Perhaps couples who marry need to be told at the start of the relationship quite how wide ranging the financial commitment is to each other for the period they are together?

Matt Pitcher is a wealth adviser at Towry Law Group and a Moneywise Ask The Professionals columnist