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Stowe Family Law reveals how divorce grossly exacerbates gender pensions gap

Stowe Family Law (the UK’s largest family law firm) has conducted a survey polling 400 women aged 35 – 64 around the UK, designed to understand and help address the increasing imbalance in the UK’s gender pensions gap.

The gender pensions gap is estimated to be over twice the size of the gender pay gap. At the beginning of women’s careers, the gender pension gap starts at 17% and reaches a staggering 56% at retirement. Meanwhile, women’s retirement wealth averages only one-third of men’s. This is leading to many women (who live longer than men) facing retirement poverty.

Against the backdrop of a cost-of-living crisis which is hitting the UK hard – 87% of adults have seen an increase in their cost of living, while year-on-year inflation has hit 9% – contributions being made into pension pots are falling.

As it stands, only 54% of the women polled have a private pension and of those who don’t, 58% responded that this is due to not earning enough to qualify. Many women work part time roles or are on zero-hour contracts. As the gender income gap continues to widen, so too does the pension gap.

In the event of divorce, this gap widens and becomes even more troublesome for women. This has been the driving force behind a briefing document published by the Government in April 2022 on Gender Pension Gap. The document suggests that pension rights should be a compulsory part of divorce proceedings as a proposed reform to help reduce this gap.

Stowe’s survey supported this stance: 60% of women revealed they did not get a share of their ex-spouse’s pension as part of the financial settlement in their divorce, while 12% weren’t sure whether they did.

The survey pointed towards women being relatively unaware of their spouse’s private pension: of the married women who responded, a quarter did not know whether their spouse had a private pension, while 77% did not know the value of it.

Meanwhile, 17% of women said they don’t have a private pension because they don’t understand them, and 70% of women who did have one didn’t know the value of it. Many women aren’t aware of just how financially significant an asset a pension is, which can play heavily against them in the event of divorce.

Matthew Taylor, Partner at Stowe Family Law, says: “At Stowe, it is extremely common for women to say that they want the matrimonial home in a divorce and don’t mind the husband keeping his private pension in full. This was backed up by our survey, which revealed that half of women aren’t convinced that they would consider the pension pot as an important factor in a financial settlement upon divorce.

Financially-speaking, failing to take into consideration the pension pot during divorce proceedings is an unwise move – especially for women.

We encourage women who are going through a divorce to think about the long-term financial ramifications of not seeking a share of their spouse’s pension. This is more important than ever, at a time when the cost of living is the highest it has been in 40 years.

We must debunk the assumption that pensions are too complicated to be worth understanding. Women who receive a share of their ex-spouse’s pensions will reap the much-needed benefits later in life when so many women would otherwise be faced with retirement poverty.”

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