Woman entitled to late ex-husband’s pension, High Court rules

Divorced wife of late educational authority director has pension rights, court rules

High Court: Margaret McDermott, of Taylor’s Hill, Galway, said in an affidavit that a “fundamental right” granted to her in the 2003 divorce proceedings was pension entitlements should her ex-husband and his second wife both die before her. Photograph: Graham Hughes/Photocall Ireland

High Court: Margaret McDermott, of Taylor’s Hill, Galway, said in an affidavit that a “fundamental right” granted to her in the 2003 divorce proceedings was pension entitlements should her ex-husband and his second wife both die before her. Photograph: Graham Hughes/Photocall Ireland

 

that awarded third-level education qualifications, the High Court has ruled.

Margaret McDermott was married to Pádraig Mac Diarmada, founding director of the National Council for Educational Awards, later to become the Higher Education Training and Awards Council. They divorced in 2003, and he remarried. His second wife predeceased him, and he died in 2009.

His ex-wife, Margaret, sought the benefit of his pension from the Department of Education on the basis that their divorce settlement conferred on her maintenance and pension rights.

The department refused, arguing that Mr Mac Diarmada had not made the required “pension adjustment order” before he died.

Ombudsman

The Minister for Education and Skills and the Minister for Finance appealed that decision to the High Court. Rejecting the Ministers’ case, Mr Justice Max Barrett said he was “unhesitatingly” finding in favour of the Pensions Ombudsman and would give his written reasons later.

Mrs McDermott was an 88-year-old woman who had been through a number of hearings and had been in court for two days, and he hoped she could return to her home in Galway and “enjoy the sunshine”, the judge said.

The Ministers, in their appeal, claimed that the ombudsman had erred in law in his finding. The ombudsman denied his finding was impaired and argued that the case for Mrs McDermott was “crystal clear”.

Mrs McDermott, of Taylor’s Hill, Galway, said in an affidavit that a “fundamental right” granted to her in the 2003 divorce proceedings was pension entitlements should Mr Mac Diarmada and his second wife both die before her.

Adjustment order

In any case, the High Court divorce order took precedence over any rules which applied to the pension scheme, she said.

Given that she was financially dependent on Mr Mac Diarmada prior to his death, she was at a serious financial loss because the Ministers “appear to be utilising every technicality to delay giving me what I believe I am absolutely entitled to”.