How Are Pensions Split in a Divorce in Alberta?

Richmond Tymchuk Family Law

How Are Pensions Split in a Divorce in Alberta?

Richmond Tymchuk Family Law

Divorce proceedings often involve the division of assets acquired during marriage, and pensions are no exception. In Alberta, understanding how pensions are valued and divided is essential for ensuring a fair settlement between spouses. This article aims to clarify Alberta’s rules surrounding pension division during divorce, the process of valuing employment pensions, and why consulting a divorce lawyer with expertise in this area is advisable.

Dividing Your Pension During Divorce: Alberta's Rules

In Alberta, pensions accumulated during a marriage are considered marital property and are subject to division upon divorce. The guiding principle is fairness, ensuring that both spouses receive a share of the pension benefits accrued during the marriage. This division is governed by the Family Law Act and the Pension Benefits Act of Alberta, which outline specific procedures and considerations.

Understanding Pension Valuation

Valuing employment pensions can be complex because, unlike other assets, their value is not static. To ensure an accurate and fair division, it's essential to understand the two primary types of employment pensions in Canada:

  1. Defined Benefit: A defined benefit plan is a retirement plan guaranteed by your employer, providing a specified income upon retirement based on a formula considering factors like salary, years of service, and age, with the employer managing the plan and bearing the investment risk. 
  2. Define Contribution: A defined contribution plan is a retirement plan where you save and invest a portion of your income, potentially with employer matching, giving you control over contributions and investment choices but also bearing the investment risk, with your retirement income depending on your savings, investment performance, and withdrawal strategy. 

The Employment Pension Plans Act (EPPA) outlines the procedure for dividing all registered pension plan benefits in the private sector. The steps to begin division are as follows:

  • Contact the plan administrator to request a calculation of the pension benefits' value for a marriage breakdown, and provide the required information and fee.
  • The plan administrator calculates and informs both parties of the eligible transfer value.
  • After receiving the Matrimonial Property Order/Agreement (MPO/A) and instructions from the former spouse, the plan administrator transfers the former spouse’s share to the selected option.
  • The plan administrator notifies both parties of the transfer amount and updates the member on their remaining benefits.

Restrictions on Dividing Pensions Between Spouses

Certain restrictions apply to the division of pensions in Alberta. For instance, pensions earned before marriage or after separation may not be subject to division unless there are exceptional circumstances. Understanding these nuances requires familiarity with both family and pension law, highlighting the importance of legal counsel. 

The Canada Pension Plan (CPP) is a benefit plan that most workers pay into, providing a retirement or disability pension based on contributions made while working. Upon separation, the CPP credits earned by both spouses during their relationship may be split. This depends on whether you meet the qualification criteria.

For defined contribution pensions, typically any amount can be transferred from the member to the spouse. The process is straightforward, and there are generally no legislative restrictions on the transfer amount. For defined benefit pensions, the transfer amount is subject to the legislation under which the pension is regulated.

Why You Should Hire a Divorce Lawyer for Pension Valuation

Hiring a divorce lawyer with expertise in pension valuation is highly recommended. A qualified lawyer can navigate the complexities of pension division, ensuring that your rights are protected and that the division is conducted equitably. They can also provide guidance on negotiating settlements that consider both immediate needs and long-term financial security.

As our previous article on navigating high-net-worth divorces in Canada emphasizes, professional legal advice is invaluable in safeguarding your interests during this sensitive process. Understanding the intricacies of pension valuation and division ensures that you achieve a fair outcome amidst the emotional and financial complexities of divorce.

By seeking the assistance of a knowledgeable divorce lawyer, you can effectively navigate this challenging terrain and secure a settlement that protects your financial future.

Contact us today to book your consultation.

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