Could pension changes trigger a rise in the number of post-retirement divorces?

According to an article published in the Telegraph last month, divorce lawyers are anticipating an increase in the number of ‘middle class stay-at-home wives’ who are planning on utilising their new found funds to divorce their husbands.

An overhaul to the pension systems is due to come into effect in April this year and will make it cheaper and much easier for people to draw out money from their pension fund, rather than paying into a pension plan.

The article in the Telegraph speculates that an unintended consequence of the divorce reforms could be that, rather simply consider divorce and then put it off, wives may be encouraged to go ahead.

In addition, figures have shown that over recent years the number of post-retirement divorces has risen markedly. (See our blog post of 28 April 2014). This rise in so-called ‘silver splitter’ divorces can be put down to a range of reasons, including changes in social attitudes to divorce, the prospect of a long retirement as people live longer and that many marry later in life. The majority of divorces amongst older couples are instigated by women with retirement being a common trigger point.

The Telegraph’s article says that Nicola Harries, a family law partner at Stevens and Bolton based in Surrey and London, has noticed a changing trend in divorce particularly in families living in the Home Counties, with a well-paid husband with a career in London and a wife who stayed at home to look after the children. In the past in families such as these, the relative financial weakness of the wife often acted as a break on divorce, with many reconsidering after realising that they would have to downsize to a much smaller property even if they got half of joint assets.

Things are changing though and there is now the possibility of many women using money from their husband’s pension fund to buy another property, meaning that the family home may not need to be sold or that two similarly sized houses could be bought instead.

Nicola Harries told the Telegraph that they had already noticed a rise in enquiries: We often see people who will put their toe in the water for a bit of advice and then go away for a few years. But if they are aware that there are options on the table I think that might [encourage] people. It could have social implications.

We are tending to see that the vast majority of divorces that are initiated in this age-group are started by the woman. The children have flown the nest and the husband is potentially retiring in the near future, I think very often there is a recognition that they have been living very different lives.

I think a lot of the ladies are thinking I’m having much more fun going out with my other friends than I would be with my husband, is this a situation I want to be stuck with?

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