The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) legal helpline gets more calls requesting advice on family law matters than almost any other area of the law: and the UK fire and rescue service has one of the highest divorce rates when compared to other occupations.
Firefighters are in the position of having an occupation that they love, but that also creates tremendous stress and strain for themselves, their spouses and their families. Personal relationship difficulties can lead to complex legal problems that can seriously impact on performance, and while expert legal advice cannot ease the pain of a relationship breakdown, it will ensure that the split is as fair to all sides as is possible and is dealt with in the most amicable way possible.
Although the FBU telephone helpline gives 30 minutes of free advice, they are unable to provide ongoing assistance, or direct you to a family law specialist.
At Hartnell Chanot & Partners we provide discounted rates, out of hours appointments and specialist legal advice on pension calculations, negotiating settlement arrangements and the full range of family law services to firefighters.
How is a Firefighter’s Pension Dealt With in Divorce?
Although fire service pensions are treated like any other asset of the marriage, they are not a capital asset, a pension is an income stream and will always remain as such.
There are three main ways in which your fire service pension can be dealt with:
This is where we would look at compensating one party for the loss of interest in their spouse's pension by giving that person a greater share of the other available assets (for example the home). This will depend upon the value of the fire service pension and the value of the other assets. In relation to fire service pensions, this is likely to mean that the value given to the pension by the fire service pension administrators (CETV) is likely to be challenged by the spouse. This is because it is an unfunded scheme which means that if a person were to buy a similar pension with the additional benefits received by the fire service personnel; it may cost more money and would be valued higher. A re-valuation of the pension is likely to increase the value of the pension.
2. Pension Sharing Order
This is where one part of the pension is taken and paid into a pension which is set up within the scheme for the other spouse. After the pension sharing order is implemented, any further contributions made by the fire service personnel will only go towards their pension, not the spouses. Therefore the fire service officer has the ability to build their pension back up before retirement. However the closer they are to retirement the less likely that will be. If the pension is in payment when a pension sharing order is made there are two consequences, on receiving the pension the fire service officer will immediately lose a proportion of the income as the pension is split. The fire service officer income will now come from the remaining proportion of the pension. The spouse however, will not receive that income until they reach retirement age. In those circumstances, other options will need to be considered. Those options could include a pension attachment order, or a deferral of the pension sharing order being made.
3. Pension Attachment Orders
A pension attachment order is where an order is made that once the pension is in payment, the spouse receives a proportion of the income and or lump sum. They receive this direct from the pension administrators. This order can be useful if a pension is already in payment as it means the spouse receives the money immediately rather than waiting until he / she is 60 or 65. It is also advantageous, as a pension attachment order would normally stop on a spouse's remarriage.
However as the pension is not split at the date of payment, any contributions made by the fire service officer post-divorce, will also increase the amount of money that the spouse receives. This option is used less frequently but can be the most suitable order in some circumstances.
What is the Best Option for your Fire Service Pension?
There are many advantages / disadvantages of each option, and the option which is most suitable to an individual firefighter will depend on their circumstances and the other assets which may be in dispute. We are however able to advise on the options that you may face in relation to your pension upon divorce.
What Information do we Need to Advise You About Your Fire Service Pension?
We will need you to supply the following information:
- Cash Equivalent Transfer value (CEVT) or Cash Equivalent Benefit (CEB) if the pension is already in payment. You need to contact the administrator of the scheme and request this as soon as possible as it is likely to take the administrator some time to provide this information, you should not be charged for requesting this information.
The date you joined the pension scheme, as this will tell us which fire service pension you have. If you have changed between the pensions schemes, you will need to let us know this.
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