Could the menopause impact divorce?
Being, as we are, three ladies of … ahem …. a certain age, my colleagues and I have watched, with interest, the recent Davina McCall documentaries regarding the menopause. Most divorces are taking place when women are between 45 and 55. This is just at the time perimenopause begins or menopause takes place, so could menopause impact divorce? Should we family lawyers then be factoring in the possibility of menopausal symptoms leading our clients to our door? Might we be right to consider if our female clients are providing us with instructions that they possibly would not, if they were not, possibly, menopausal?
As family lawyers we are well used to, and fairly comfortable with, asking difficult questions. Having said this, I’m not sure how comfortable either I or my client would be if I asked them if the reason for them wanting to separate or divorce could be that they are menopausal, and have they consulted with their GP? Or could their depression and anxiety be something to do with the perimenopause and something we need to consider in relation to their ability to work? Might that client feel the same way I do when, being justifiably irritated about some domestic issue, my husband asks “Is it that time of the month?”.
Putting aside potential discomfort it seems that these are conversations which are going to become more relevant and important. There is growing awareness of the effect of menopause on, let’s face it, all of us women. Some will have barely any symptoms and fairly sail through the transition. Others will suffer debilitating symptoms (as many as one in four) which may even force them out of work.
Farhana Shahzady launched the Family Law Menopause Project in February 2022 and having surveyed nationally, found that 81% of family lawyers are failing to understand or recognise how perimenopause or menopause could impact divorce and separation. Farhana is campaigning for change and there is, as a result, growing understanding and awareness in family law circles.
In recent years the courts in financial remedy proceedings have been looking to reduce maintenance orders to incredibly short terms, or even to refuse to award maintenance at all. The courts are preferring for the wife in these circumstances to be achieving independence at the earliest opportunity. Taking a step back to consider this now with our new appreciation we have to begin questioning this. Let us consider a woman at the age of 48, whose children are in their mid to late teens, and for whom she has always been the main carer, allowing her husband to concentrate on his career and higher earning capacity. If we now assume that this woman, a new client, tells us that her she has spoken to her doctor because she is experiencing symptoms of perimenopause such as night-sweats and broken sleep, she is anxious and experiencing joint pain, is it right that we take none of this into account and advise that the court will expect her to shift to full-time work, right now, and become financially independent? The dovetailing of potential perimenopause/menopause with teenage children, the imperative to step right up with her career and earning capacity as well as a divorce is a lot to deal with in one hit.
We have concluded that these are issues that we cannot ignore and we will, where appropriate, be asking the questions. Whilst it may feel awkward for a minute or two, we would rather we did so than miss something that could have a bearing on our client’s financial future.
– Head of Family team, Kerys Deavin