Landmark victory over divorcees' pension rights

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Government plans to amend the law on the division of pensions after divorce were thrown into disarray yesterday after a landmark House of Lords judgment allowing Anne Brooks, a divorcee, a share in her ex-husband's pension.

Up to 150,000 women, and some men, who divorce each year stand to benefit if their spouses are members of a wide variety of pension schemes.

They will be entitled to a share of their former spouses' pensions at retirement. They can claim this even if the partner dies before reaching retirement age.

Although pensions can be considered part of a divorce settlement, there are often not sufficient assets at the time of divorce to compensate for the loss of pension. This means that wives are often left with little or nothing at retirement. Experts doubted last night whether the ruling would affect women who have already reached a settlement with their ex- husbands However, hundreds of cases pending will be affected.

The decision goes much further than changes contained in the Government's Pensions Bill, being piloted through its final parliamentary stages.

The Bill proposes that women should wait until their husbands retire before taking part of their pensions. But many critics have pointed out that if the former husband dies before retirement, his ex-wife stands to receive nothing.

Yesterday's unanimous judgment by five Law Lords upheld a ruling by the Court of Appeal. It could also pave the way for women to be eligible for part of their husbands' pension when the woman retires, without having to wait for their former husband to draw the pension. The judgment also refers to nearly every type of pension arrangement by name - except for personal pensions.But Norman Russell, a pensions expert at the law firm Paisner and Co, which represented Mrs Brooks, said: "The decisions involved a type of pension very similar to personal pensions. Surely it also applies to personal pension schemes.

"This decision of the highest court in the land in favour of Mrs Brooks vindicates our view that a pension scheme can be regarded as part of a settlement, which the courts can vary."

The case, which has gone through every stage of the legal system, now means that she will not only receive a pension as the result of having worked for the company. She will also get a part of her husband's own fund as part of the agreement.

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