WIVES and civil partners who get divorced or separate may be entitled to a large portion of their former partner's pension pot, a leading family lawyer said.
Solicitor Muriel Walls said the courts could award a wife as much as half of a 55-year-old husband's accumulated pension pot if the couple had been married for 30 years.
If the husband had accumulated a pension pot of €800,000, the wife could expect to get about €400,000.
That could deliver a pension of €20,000 per year on retirement, according to estimates by the Connect Women in Pensions Group, a voluntary networking group for women working in the pensions industry.
Ms Walls, a partner in Walls & Toomey solicitors in Dublin, said a spouse or civil partner could expect a smaller share of the pension if the marriage or partnership had lasted for a shorter time.
A court might award a wife and mother one-third of the accumulated pension pot if she had been married to the husband for 10 years or less and had some pension entitlements of her own.
She said the court had the power to divvy up pensions where marriages or civil partnerships had broken down, a process known as a "pension adjustment order".
In the case of T v T in 2002, the Supreme Court awarded the wife 51pc of the value of various pension policies owned by the husband, leaving 49pc of the value with the husband.
The court would take in to account factors such as the income, earning capacity, property and financial resources of the spouses or civil partners when reaching its decision.
Ms Walls said the court also took account of the age of the parties, the standard of living the family enjoyed, the duration of the marriage and civil partnership and any physical or mental disability. It also factored in the contribution that the spouse or civil partner had made to the welfare of the family, the effect on their earning capacity of the responsibilities assumed and opportunities foregone.
The lawyer said that women's employment patterns tended to leave them more reliant on their spouse's pensions as they took time off work for maternity leave, working in the home or part-time work.
Ms Walls said: "When marriages and relationships break down, I would urge people to ensure that they secure a fair share of their ex's pension pot. It may be the case that the pension pot is a considerably larger asset than is realised."
She said this was particularly important for women who were less likely than men to have their own pension and who also lived longer than men.