Q: I have been legally separated for 10 years but never divorced. Can I claim part of my ex-husband’s CPP for the last 10 years? I was married to him and lived with him for 23 years and had three of his children.
A: Rose, your question is about splitting Canadian Pension Plan (CPP). There can be a lot of confusion and misunderstanding about the splitting of CPP credits when a separation or divorce is involved. I often see CPP splitting overlooked during marriage breakups, which is unfortunate, since it can amount to a large difference in someone’s income at retirement.
First, understand that here are different rules and entitlement depending on the status and timing of the separation or divorce. The rules also vary, depending on whether you’re married, or in a common law relationship before the split happens.
But the short answer is this—if you are still married (no divorce decree) and your separation occurred on or after January 1, 1987, you qualify for a credit split if:
- You lived with your spouse for at least 12 consecutive months:
- You have been living apart for at least 12 consecutive months; and
- You or your spouse applies in writing and sends the necessary documents to the federal government.
Please note that there is no time limit to apply, unless your spouse dies, in which case you must apply within 36 months of the date of his death. If you are common law, you have the above rules as well as a 48-month window to apply for CPP splitting–unless your ex is willing to waive this rule in writing.
The impact of the credit split can vary considerably, depending on your circumstances. Things like a general drop-out provision as well as the child-rearing provision can greatly impact your CPP benefits, so the credit splitting is a way to equalize this asset.
Generally speaking, it is best to contact the federal department that looks after this situation directly. (You can find details here.)
As long as you have all the appropriate documentation, they will run the numbers and divide the CPP according to the rules for you.
Even if you do not intend to draw your CPP for many years, I recommend that this be done soon after the separation agreement is signed so that it does not get missed or forgotten later on.
One of the benefits of working with a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst, such as myself, is that we will review this with you, and ensure that you have received the portion of CPP that you are entitled to. After all, the CPP is a pension like any other pension, and it is important that it be treated as an asset for equalization.
Having said this, I have noticed amongst my clients that many people have an attachment to their CPP and an aversion to splitting it. In fact, they will often threaten further action if the ex-spouse applies for the CPP split, which is why it is best to handle this during the negotiation stage of the separation agreement and written directly into it. That way, there are no surprises later on.
Debbie Hartzmann is a certified divorce financial analyst and holds the following designations: CFP, CLU, CDFA.TEP, RRC and CEA
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