I have been separated for four years this coming May from my husband of 43 years.
I receive pension credit as I only had a small works pension in my name which supplements my state pension, but my husband paid into various pensions during our married life.
Can he remove my name now from those pensions? I worked all my life and put money into those pensions but no longer communicate with him.
Dilemma: I paid into my husband's pensions, but can he block me from getting anything now we're separated?
Jessica Smith, solicitor at Howard Kennedy, replies: Unfortunately it's not possible for a pension to be held in joint names so the pensions in question will currently belong to your estranged husband.
It is therefore not a question of whether he can remove your name from those pensions, but a question of whether you can get access to them.
Do you want to end your marriage?
The options available to you will depend on whether you want a divorce.
Pursuing your husband for financial support will be difficult if you want to remain married.
A court cannot make certain orders, including for a share of his pensions to be transferred to you (a 'pension sharing order'), unless the divorce process has started.
A pension sharing order won't take effect until you are formally divorced.
What are your rights? 'If your husband were to die before these issues are resolved, there is no guarantee that his pensions will be allocated to his spouse'
Alternatively, you can apply for an order of 'judicial separation'.
This allows the court to make some financial orders (such as property transfers), but one of the few orders not available upon judicial separation are pension sharing orders.
What if you remain separated and don't divorce?
If you want to stay married, you can only sort your finances by agreement with your husband.
This can be informal (which would be risky) or you can enter into a written post-nuptial agreement setting out arrangements for now, like maintenance for you, and also what will happen if you divorce.
Any payments under this agreement would effectively come from his pension, presuming that he is already drawing it, but you would not be entitled to transfer your share of the pension into your own name without a divorce.
If you were to proceed with a judicial separation, you would not be able to have a pension sharing order, but you would be able to have a pension attachment order, which effectively earmarks a share of his pension so that you receive it as a lump sum or as monthly payments.
What if you get a divorce?
STEVE WEBB ANSWERS YOUR PENSION QUESTIONS
If you file for divorce, the court has broad powers to redistribute your and your husband's property. In deciding this, a court will start by applying the 'principle of sharing'.
This means the court would add up the value of all of your net assets and then split them to leave you each with around 50 per cent.
The 50:50 split is simply a starting point; either of you could argue that the pot should be divided differently. The court decides financial matters based on what is considered to be fair in all the circumstances.
It is difficult to give you a firm idea of how a court would decide your case without knowing all the circumstances, but your marriage lasted a long time and this is going to be a very persuasive factor in favour of a 50:50 split.
This will apply to pensions and also other assets.
There is nothing preventing you from reaching agreement yourselves, via solicitors if you would rather not have direct contact with your husband, and avoiding court.
Many couples find mediation a helpful process for reaching agreement. Any agreement needs to be put into a court order.
You will need up-to-date valuations for all of the pensions and you should consider instructing a pension actuary who would help you do this, although there is a cost to that.
A solicitor should be able to point you to a suitable actuary.
How soon should you take action?
You urgently need to decide how you want to move forward. If your husband were to die before these issues are resolved, there is no guarantee that his pensions will be allocated to his spouse on his death and so you are at significant risk of losing any entitlement.
There are complex legal issues at play here so please take proper legal advice as soon as you can. It's time to bite the bullet.