x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Does my ex-wife have the right to my pension money?

A US citizen living in Abu Dhabi is about to file for divorce in his home state and is concerned that his wife, who has not worked or saved any money, may be entitled to his pension. Keren Bobker has the answer.

My wife and I are US citizens and I am about to file for divorce in our home state, although we live in Abu Dhabi. We both have pension funds in the United States, but mine is some four times larger and I am concerned that she will be entitled to a portion of this, even though it has been her decision not to work or save any money. I’d like to know if she has the right to get some of my pension money, especially as I built most of it up before we were married and have been the main earner during our marriage. CN, Abu Dhabi

My understanding is that generally, any asset which accrued during the marriage is considered a marital asset, and may be equitably divided by the court during a divorce. That includes pensions and other retirement funds. Only the benefits that accrued during the marriage are considered a part of the marital estate. So if you were employed for 10 years, but married for only five years, only the pension benefit that accrued during the five-year marriage should be considered a part of the marital estate, which is subject to division. The same would be true of any pension which your wife has. I would advise you to use a lawyer to assist with the process of the divorce as they will ensure that any divorce decree or settlement relates only to the assets which have accrued during your marriage. Sometimes it is easier, especially in a settlement negotiation, to keep the retirement fund, but offset its value with something else, such as other savings or property.

Keren Bobker is an independent financial adviser with Holborn Assets in Dubai. Contact her at keren@holbornassets.com