Nationwide survey of family lawyers finds that 81% of divorce experts are failing to recognise the impact of the menopause on their clients

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A recent nationwide survey[1] by the Family Law Menopause Project has revealed that 81% of family lawyers are failing to understand or recognise the impact of menopause and perimenopause during divorce and separation. The survey of family law professionals and the judiciary also found that 65% of respondents agreed that women are potentially disadvantaged in terms of financial settlements by a lack of understanding within family law to recognise or think about the impact menopause and perimenopause might be having on the ability of their female clients to work full-time or even part-time.

The survey is the first of its kind to uncover trends and insight into the prevalence of menopause and perimenopause in family law cases.  The data supports one of the key aims of the Family Law Menopause Project which is to raise awareness amongst the family law community of the impact of menopause so that family lawyers can ensure that their advice leads to the fairest financial outcome for female clients as they approach retirement.

Farhana Shahzady launched the Family Law Menopause Project in February 2022 out of concern that many divorcing women are currently left financially disadvantaged as they approach retirement because the impact of menopause on their ability to work is not taken into account when financial settlements are drawn up. While symptoms will vary, 1 in 4 women will experience severe debilitating symptoms while over 60% of women will experience symptoms resulting in behavioural changes.

Dr Shahzadi Harper, leading GP with a special interest in women’s health, perimenopause & menopause, said:

“Women make up half the population and are often juggling many roles, wife, mother, carer, sister, daughter, breadwinner. Every woman will go through menopause at some point and whilst the symptoms can vary enormously, it is a biological certainty. In every single area of life – divorce and separation included – a greater understanding of menopause and its impact is needed which is why the work of the Family Law Menopause Project in raising awareness about the issue of menopause in the context of divorce is so important.” 

The project poses a direct challenge to the controversial Divorce (Financial Provision) Bill which was re-introduced to the House of Lords in July 2021. The Bill, spearheaded by Baroness Deech, and which is opposed by a large cohort of family lawyers, promises to provide greater certainty in relation to the financial outcomes of divorce, including limiting spousal maintenance payments to a term of no more than five years.  While the Family Law Menopause Project does not seek to discourage financial autonomy, it does seek to halt the downward trend in spousal maintenance payments to save women and their families from financial hardship as they approach retirement.

Farhana Shahzady, founder of the Family Law Menopause Project and a director at London and South East firm Family Law Partners, said:

“The survey reveals an enormous weakness within the current framework for divorce in that lawyers who are supporting women at such a critical stage in their lives do not consider the impact menopause may have on their ability to work. As a profession (and let’s not forget that more than three quarters of family lawyers are female), we are doing women a disservice if we don’t engage in a conversation around the menopause and adjust our practice accordingly.”

“My fear as a family lawyer is that women are sleep-walking into a situation where they may face real financial hardship as they approach retirement. It is clear that the family law profession, as in wider society, needs to get a grip on the reality of menopause and that we must be better equipped to support the many clients who are profoundly affected by menopause”.

An additional finding is that 60% of respondents felt that it would be unlikely or extremely unlikely that clients (whether as individuals or as a couple) would talk openly about the impact of menopause on their divorce with their lawyer.  This highlights a further gap in the framework for divorce, where not only practitioners but clients themselves are failing to talk about the menopause, even where the impact on their lives might be significant.

A core aim of the Family Law Menopause Project is to raise awareness amongst family law professionals and encourage lawyers to think differently about how they onboard and advise clients, and adapt their practice to ensure that menopause is considered and explored (if relevant) at the earliest stage in a case.

Farhana adds:

“In my view, family lawyers are actually very good at life triage and identifying safeguarding and other important issues which is why we can and must do a lot better at identifying cases where the menopause is a factor and ensure medical expertise is sought or careful consideration is given as to how best to progress the case”. 

[1] 102 respondents (83% of respondents have an equal caseload of M/F clients and 47% a client base aged 47-55)

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