Divorce pension attachment orders double since 2011

The number of pension attachment orders made by family courts since 2011 has doubled, despite the number of divorce petitions lodged decreasing, figures obtained by Nockolds have found.

A pension attachment order redirects part or all of them member’s pension benefits to the ex-spouse or civil partner when it comes into payment. In 2011, there were 2,283 were made by the family courts, compared to 4,632 order made in 2011, Ministry of Justice figures revealed.

However, at the same time, the number of divorce petitions has fallen from 129,313 to 118,142, a decline of 8.6 per cent. The average age at divorce for is 46.4 years for men and 43.9 years for women. This continues the year-on-year increases in the average age at divorce recorded since 1985, Office for National Statistics data revealed.

According to Nockolds, as the average age of people getting divorced rises, the courts are having to deal with more complex financial settlements, particularly in relation to pensions, which are often the most valuable asset apart from property.

Nockolds associate Francesca Davey said: “These figures show just how common divorce later in life is becoming and the extent to which the courts are being asked to rule on pension assets. Pensions are increasingly a major issue in divorce but for the growing number of older couples getting divorced private pensions are often the most valuable asset after the family home”

“With more people undertaking DIY divorces online, the chances of making a mistake in relation to pensions is increasing. In many cases a pension attachment order may not be the most appropriate remedy. This is because the order does not prevent a person from transferring money out of their pension or oblige them to continue paying in, so unless the pension is already in drawdown, it can be ineffective.”

According to Nockolds, for many divorcing couples a pension sharing order will be the most equitable way of dividing pension assets, instead of a pension attachment order. The advantage of a pension sharing order is that the assets are divided at the point of divorce, enabling the applicant to pay a lump sum into their own pension pot, or start paying into a new scheme.

Davey said: “The benefit of a pension sharing order is that the fund is immediately divided between the spouses, meaning the applicant knows what is going into their pension pot now and can plan ahead. People getting divorced later in life need to think carefully about whether a pension attachment or a pension sharing order is the most appropriate remedy. A pension attachment order is risky unless the pension is already in drawdown and it is important to look at exactly what benefits the pension type offers to avoid losing out by choosing the wrong option.”

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