My old employer’s pension administrator says that it has applied to the court for a copy of a lost pensions attachment order before they will pay my pension. My retirement date was 1 March.
After two months, it has heard nothing back and claims that the court destroys orders after 18 years. My divorce was 18 years ago.
My ex and I have both confirmed to the administrator that we agree that my pension should be shared equally but they refuse to move without the order, which they have admitted they cannot obtain.
My ex-wife has asked the administrator to start paying my pension so I can pay her out of that, but it has refused to do so.
If you are able and willing to suggest a solution to this impasse, we would both be truly grateful.
Pension split: Ex-couple are agreed on 50:50 division, but scheme won’t pay up without attachment order which was destroyed (Stock image)
Tanya Jefferies, of This is Money, replies: A pension attachment order is where a court decides that a percentage of someone’s future pension income and retirement lump sum must be paid to their ex-spouse.
But these orders only take effect when the pension holder reaches their scheme’s retirement age, which might be years after their divorce, as in your case.
Divorced couples find them inconvenient for many reasons, on top of this potentially very long time lapse which is causing your headaches with paperwork now.
This is Money’s pension columnist, Steve Webb, explains the shortcomings of pension attachment orders here. They include the loss of the pension if the original holder dies before retirement age, or the ex-spouse’s rights to their share if they remarry.
These disadvantages are why courts now prefer to use pension sharing orders, which were introduced later and split a pension straight away on a ‘clean break’ basis.
Each ex-spouse walks away with a share of the pension, which they control themselves from then onwards, and there is no need for this kind of wrangling years after the divorce.
Luckily you and your ex-wife are united in how to handle this pension attachment order, and what you need to know is how to get your old scheme to cooperate and start paying you both what you are owed.
We asked a lawyer to explain how you can get out of this bind, and convince the scheme your pension attachment order is all above board.
Teena Dhanota-Jones: ‘Regardless of what the courts do, the solicitors should have a copy’
Teena Dhanota-Jones, a partner at London law firm Hodge Jones & Allen, replies: How very frustrating for you both, not least since you clearly complied with what was legally required at the time of your divorce.
The first thing to mention is that if your pension provider has not been served with the pension attachment order, they cannot pay the beneficiary of that order, your ex-wife.
However, if you as the policy holder are not being paid by the pension provider because it has been told here is a pension attachment order, the order needs to be located and served on them.
If the order cannot be located and the pension provider refuses to pay, further enquiries will need to be made by a solicitor to ascertain why.
Please don’t despair, though, because this can hopefully be resolved without too much difficulty.
How can you get a pension attachment order now?
A final court order determining each party’s financial claims upon a divorce is needed to give the court the jurisdiction to grant a pension attachment order.
Along with this final order, the court is required to approve a pension annex.
This pension annex, with the final court order and the final certificate in relation to the divorce, must be served on the pension provider.
As mentioned above, without these documents, the pension provider cannot implement a pension attachment order.
It’s easy to say with the clarity of hindsight, but it makes sense to get hold of any pension order attachment BEFORE you retire so that financial matters can be sorted quickly.
STEVE WEBB ANSWERS YOUR PENSION QUESTIONS
If you search on gov.uk/copy-decree-absolute-final-order you should find a copy of your decree absolute and the final order and usually the pension annex, normally attached to the final order.
If the pension annex is there, you will not need a solicitor. But if the final order mentions a pension attachment order, and the pension annex is not attached, you will need to consult your former solicitor (who progressed your divorce) to ascertain if they have a copy.
Regardless of what the courts do, the solicitors should have a copy. From my experience, most solicitors retain a scanned copy of all final financial orders, pension annexes and decree absolute certificates for an indefinite period. It is usually the paper file that is destroyed after six years.
If a copy cannot be located, you will need to consult a solicitor (not necessarily the original one), who will take the necessary steps to obtain another sealed pension attachment order, which they will then serve on the pension provider.
What might getting another order cost?
If a further pension attachment order needs to be drafted and sealed by the court, it should take between two and four hours. You will also need to pay a court fee.
Solicitors’ hourly rates vary but you may be able to fix the fee at, say, £500 plus VAT. However, it’s really hard to predict without proper detailed instructions and not knowing what the pension provider will say.
If an ex-husband and wife are in agreement, the court fee is £50. If they disagree, the court fee is £155.
Is it possible to settle such cases on your own?
You and your ex appear to be on amicable terms and you mention that you both agree that you should share the pension equally so, again, once you have the pension attachment order, things should not be too difficult to sort out quickly.
Unfortunately, your pension provider is refusing to pay just you alone without an order in this case.
Generally, if the whole pension is paid to the policyholder, they can voluntarily pay the sums due to their former spouse directly from the sum they receive every month, assuming the order is attached to the pension and they can recall the percentage that should have been paid.
Again, a voluntary payment can be paid from the retirement lump sum, if the order is attached to this part of the pension.
If the parties are amicable and they can recall the terms of the order, they can put this into place without the need to involve solicitors immediately.
Any eventual backdating of the pension payments will depend on the terms of the attachment order and the regulations and rules of the pension provider.