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The Pension Benefits Division Act (PBDA) is now in force. It provides for the division of pension benefits accumulated under any of the federal Public Service pension plans in the event of a marriage or common-law relationship breakdown.
The questions and answers that follow provide a general description of the Act and its regulations and indicate how to obtain further information.
The purpose of this document is to provide a brief description
of the program. Please refer to the Pension Benefits Division Act
and Regulations for the actual conditions that apply.
Q. What does the Pension Benefits Division Act (PBDA) do?
A. The PBDA provides a mechanism for dividing pension benefits acquired under a federal Public Service pension plan between the plan member and his or her spouse or former spouse on the breakdown of their marriage or common-law relationship.
Q. Which federal Public Service pension plans are subject to the PBDA?
A. The PBDA applies to the Public Service pension plans provided under the following Acts: the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act; the Defence Services Pension Continuation Act; the Diplomatic Service (Special) Superannuation Act; the Governor General's Act; the Lieutenant Governors Superannuation Act; the Members of Parliament Retiring Allowances Act; the Public Service Superannuation Act; the RCMP Pension Continuation Act; and the RCMP Superannuation Act.
Q. Who is eligible for a division of pension benefits?
A. To be eligible, spouses must be divorced or living separate and apart for at least one year. They must also have a court order or written spousal agreement providing for the division of the member's pension benefits under the pension plan between the member and the spouse or former spouse.
Q. Are common-law spouses who have separated from a member eligible for a division?
A. Yes, as long as the common-law relationship lasted for a minimum of one year and the member and the common-law spouse have lived separate and apart for at least one year. There must be a court order or a written spousal agreement that provides for the division of the member's pension benefits.
Q. Can information on the value of the pension benefits subject to division be obtained before the spouse is separated or divorced from the plan member?
A. Yes. An estimate of the value may be obtained from the appropriate pension administration by requesting it in writing.
Q. Is the division carried out automatically if a member is divorced or separated?
A. No. An application must be made by either the member, the spouse or former spouse, or someone on behalf of either party, before a division of pension benefits can be carried out under the PBDA. The application must be accompanied by a court order or written spousal agreement that specifically provides for a division of the member's pension benefits.
Q. What if the spousal agreement or court order was made before the PBDA came into force?
A. The spouse or former spouse can still apply for a division, as long as the court order or written spousal agreement provides for the division of the member's pension benefits and the terms have not been satisfied by some other means.
Q. Can an application for division be made if either the plan member or the spouse or former spouse has died?
A. Yes. An application can be made if the death occurred on or after September 29, 1992. If the person died before the PBDA came into force, the application can be made up to 18 months after the coming-into-force date. If the death occurs after the PBDA came into force, the application must be made within 18 months of the death.
Q. How will the plan member know if her or his spouse or former spouse has made an application for a division?
A. When an application is received, a notice of the application and a copy of the court order or written spousal agreement will be sent to the other party.
Q. What benefits are subject to a division under the PBDA?
A. The Act stipulates that, once the application has been approved, the pension benefits that have been accumulated by a plan member "during the period subject to division" will be divided. This period is the duration of the marriage, the period of living together in a common-law relationship, or the period specified in the court order or written spousal agreement.
Q. What type of benefit will the spouse or former spouse receive if the division is approved?
A. If the division is approved, a lump-sum amount will be transferred to the retirement savings vehicle chosen by the spouse. This could be a registered pension plan, a locked-in registered retirement savings plan (RRSP), or a life income fund (LIF). Or, the lump sum may be transferred to a financial institution for the purchase of an immediate or deferred life annuity.
If the plan member is not vested, the lump sum will be transferred to an RRSP or to a LIF. If the benefits have been accumulated under a retirement compensation arrangement, the transfer will be made to the spouse.
Note: A member is vested if he or she is entitled to an immediate or a deferred pension. If a member is not vested, he or she is entitled to a return of his or her own contributions, plus interest.
Q. How is this lump-sum amount determined?
A. The lump-sum amount will equal 50 per cent of the value of the member's pension benefits accumulated during the period subject to division. This value is the actuarial present value of the plan member's pension benefits as determined by generally accepted actuarial principles set out in the Pension Benefits Division Regulations.
Q. Will the lump-sum amount always be 50 per cent of the value of the plan member's pension benefits?
A. Not necessarily. If the court order or spousal agreement provides for the payment of a smaller lump-sum amount, this smaller amount will be transferred on behalf of the spouse or former spouse. If the court order or spousal agreement provides for the payment of a larger lump-sum amount, any shortfall between this amount and the amount the PBDA allows to be transferred must be satisfied in some other way.
Q. Can the pension benefits be assigned a different value from the value established under the Pension Benefits Division Regulations?
A. Yes. The parties may agree to, or a court may order, any value in accordance with divorce law and provincial family law. However, the PBDA limits the amount that can be transferred from the pension account to the spouse to 50 per cent of the value of the member's benefits, for the period subject to division, as determined under the Pension Benefits Division Regulations.
Q. What happens to the member's pension benefits following a division?
A. The member's pension benefits are adjusted, as specified by the Pension Benefits Division Regulations, to reflect the reduction in the value of the pension benefits as a result of the division.
Q. Can the member's pension benefits be divided if the member is receiving a retirement pension at the time of the division?
A. Yes. The member's pension benefits, including any present or future annuity, allowance or return of contributions, are subject to division regardless of whether or not benefits are being paid at the time of the division.
Q. Can the non-applicant object to the division?
A. Yes. A notice of objection to the division may be filed with the appropriate Minister (i.e. the Minister of National Defence for members of the Canadian Forces; the Solicitor General for members of the RCMP; and the Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada for all others). It must be filed within 90 days after the notice of application was sent out.
Q. What are the grounds for objection?
A. The grounds for objection are:
(i) the court order or spousal agreement has been varied or is no longer valid;
(ii) the terms of the court order or spousal agreement have been satisfied, or are being satisfied, by some other means; or
(iii) the court order has been appealed or the terms of the spousal agreement are under challenge in court.
Q. Does the spouse have to wait until the plan member retires before filing an application or receiving a lump-sum payment?
A. No. As long as the terms of the PBDA are met, the spouse or former spouse may make an application for a division as soon as there is a court order or spousal agreement providing for the division. The lump-sum payment will be made as soon as the division is approved.
Q. How does division under the PBDA differ from the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) credit-splitting arrangements?
A. Under the CPP, pension credits are actually split and the appropriate portion transferred to the other spouse. Under the PBDA, a lump-sum payment is made from the relevant superannuation account.
Addresses and phone numbers for further inquiries can be found in the leaflet "The Pension Benefits Division Act: Program Overview." Please contact:
Corporate Services Branch
Treasury Board of Canada
300 Laurier Avenue West
Tel.: (613) 995-2855
Fax: (613) 996-0518