During separation of property are pensions usually given to a significant other when the pension is payable or is the value separated and “paid out” right away during the divorce process?

This really depends on the factors involved in each case. For qualified employer plans like pensions, you can use a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) to withdraw funds early without taking a tax hit. Essentially this is a vehicle that allows for one spouse to transfer funds from a retirement account to another spouse, incident to divorce, without taking a penalty for early withdrawal. The receiving spouse has to deposit the funds into a retirement account in order to avoid a penalty as well. To learn more about the process consult our article on dividing retirement accounts.