OSPC - FAQS - Overview of Manitoba Pension Laws

Relationship Breakdown

The main objective of The Pension Benefits Act (the act) is to protect employees' rights to the benefits that are promised under private pension plans.  The following are answers to frequently asked questions (FAQ) about Manitoba's pension laws.  You should refer to the act for further information on Manitoba's pension laws.  To find out the details of your particular pension plan (the terms of your plan may be more generous than required by the act), you should contact the plan administrator.

How are "spouse," common-law partner" and "common-law relationship defined?"

Under the act:

"Spouse" is defined as the person who is married to the other person.

"Common-law partner" of a plan owner/member or former owner/member means:

  • (a) a person who - with the owner or former owner - has registered a common-law relationship, under section 13.1 of The Vital Statistics Act or
  • (b) a person who is not married to the owner or former owner, but has lived with him/ her in a conjugal relationship for at least:
    • (i) three years, if either of them is married or
    • (ii) one year, if neither of them is married

"Common-law relationship" is defined as the relationship between two people who are common-law partners.

My spouse or common-law partner and I are separated. Is he/she entitled to any of my pension benefits?

The act states that the pension benefits must be divided, if there is:

  • a court order under The Family Property Act requiring the division of family property, or
  • a written agreement between you and your spouse, former spouse or partner about the division of family assets or
  • a court order from another Canadian jurisdiction requiring the division of the pension benefits or
  • the common-law partner receives an order of the Court of King's Bench requiring the division of the pension benefits.

For a date of separation before October 1, 2021, the pension must be divided equally. Effective October 1, 2021, the pension division percentage is specified in the Separation Agreement or Court Order and can not be greater than 50%.

When can a former common-law partner apply to the court for an order to divide pension benefits?

You may apply to the court for an order to divide the pension benefits if you are the former common-law partner of a plan owner or former owner, if you

  • are a common-law partner that the act applies to, and
  • never registered your relationship under The Vital Statistics Act, and
  • cohabited for 1-3 years while neither you or your partner were married, and
  • both lived in Manitoba when your relationship ended, and
  • made an application to the court within 3 years after your relationship ended, and
  • have a letter of probate that is less than six months old, and

Will this law affect spouses, former spouses and common-law partners who separated or divorced before January 1, 1984?

No. The act only applies to people who separated on or after January 1, 1984. It does not apply to relationships that ended before then.

Will this law affect common-law partners?

The act applies to common-law partner who began living separate and apart:

  • on or after June 30, 2004, or
  • after 1983 and before June 30, 2004 where an approved form declaring you as the common-law partner was filed with the plan administrator, or
  • on June 30, 2004 but began living together again for at least 90 days

Will this law affect me if I am retired?

Yes, if you are currently receiving a pension, your pension payments are subject to the mandatory division if your relationship breaks down.

Will this law affect all of my pension benefits?

This act only applies to pension benefits that were accrued:

  • in a common-law relationship - from the first day of the period in which the parties began living together in a conjugal relationship that continued until they became common-law partners or
  • in a marriage - from the date of marriage or
  • in a marriage where the parties first lived together in a conjugal relationship that continued until they were married - from the first day of that period
  • until the date that the couple began living separate and apart.

For spouses who began living apart before June 30, 2004, the pension benefits that must be divided are the benefits accrued from the date of the marriage.

Is there any way to avoid the mandatory division when a relationship breaks down?

For a date of separation before October 1, 2021:

  • You and your spouse or former spouse or common-law partner may agree to waive the 50/50 division of benefits. The act states that if both parties agree to this, they must first:

(a) receive independent legal advice

(b) receive a statement from the pension plan administrator providing information required under the act, such as the amount of entitlement and options and

(c) sign a written agreement with the spouse or partner

  • Where you and your spouse, or former spouse or common-law partner cannot agree to waive the division, the mandatory 50/50 division must be applied.

Effective October 1, 2021

  • The pension division percentage is specified in the Separation Agreement or Court Order. The written agreement or court order can specify that the pension is not to be divided.

Can pension benefits be received as a cash refund?

Except for voluntary and optional ancillary (additional) contributions, pension benefits are locked in and may only be transferred to a:

  • Locked in Retirement Account (LIRA) or
  • Life Income Fund (LIF) or
  • registered pension plan, if the spouse or partner is a member, and only if the plan allows it and treats the pension benefits as locked-in or
  • pooled registered pension plan.

Can we choose to divide the difference?

For a date of separation before October 1, 2021:

  • If both of you belong to pension plans and are not retired, you can agree, in writing, to equally divide the difference in the values of the two pensions benefits on a 50/50 basis, rather than dividing both pension benefits on a 50/50 basis.

  • For example: Terry's pension benefits and Kelly's pension benefits must be divided between them. They have agreed in writing to divide the difference on a 50/50 basis.

    If Terry's pension benefits are valued at $70, 000 and Kelly's pension benefits are valued at $40,000, the difference of $30,000 will be divided on a 50/50 basis. Terry's plan administrator will transfer $30,000 ÷ 2 or $15,000 to Kelly's LIRA, LIF or pension plan, if her plan allows it.

Effective October 1, 2021:

The pension division percentage is specified in the written agreement or court order; dividing the difference can be accomplished by setting the percentage accordingly.

Can a pension that is already being paid to a retired member be paid as two separate pensions?

  • Yes, if your pension plan allows it, and you and your spouse, or former spouse or common-law partner agree, the form of pension may be changed and the pension paid as two separate life-only pensions so that both the retiree and the spouse or former spouse or partner receive a pension for as long as they each live.

  • For example:

    Terry and Kelly were married when Terry retired. At retirement Terry elected a joint and survivor pension, which paid $1,000 per month for his lifetime. After his death, Kelly would receive $600 a month for her lifetime as the joint survivor.

    However, if Terry's plan allows it and the couple separate, Kelly would become entitled to half of Terry's pension which could be paid as two separate pensions, one to Terry and one to Kelly, each receiving $500 per month for their lives.

    In the case of a non-joint survivor pension, the pension can be adjusted so it becomes payable as two separate lifetime pensions, but the form of pension cannot be changed.

For information contact your plan administrator or financial institution.

If you have more questions about the act or regulations, contact the Office of Superintendent - Pension Commission at (204) 945-2740 in Winnipeg; 1-800-282-8069, extension 2740 toll free; or go to www.gov.mb.ca/pension.


Joint pension or survivor pension pays a pension to the retiree for his/her life and, after death, to the spouse or common-law partner for his/her life.

Life Income Fund is an investment that pays an adjustable amount of retirement income to the LIF owner, based on prescribed annuity factors. It must be at least the minimum amount stated in the federal Income Tax Act and the maximum amount stated in the provincial regulations under the Manitoba act.

Locked-in Retirement Account (LIRA) is an investment that allows your money (pension benefits) to continue to grow and accumulate interest while being held (or locked in) in the fund until you retire. LIRAs replace locked-in, Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSPs), although they operate in the same way. A LIRA is a RRSP that is governed by the provincial act and holds locked-in pension funds until they are used for retirement.

Pooled Registered Pension Plan (PRPP) is a defined contribution-style plan that is set up and administered by a licensed provider and administered by the financial institution.

Registered Retirement Income Fund (RRIF) is a personal retirement income fund that is governed by the federal Income Tax Act (Canada).

Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) is a personal retirement savings plan governed by the federal Income Tax Act (Canada).

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