Family lawyers “should be asking clients about the menopause”

Shahzady: Doing our clients a disservice if we don’t ask the question

Family lawyers should be asking their clients whether the menopause is having an impact on them, the founder of the Family Law Menopause Project has said.

The call came as a survey of solicitors, barristers and judges by the project found that 81% believed the family law profession did not fully understand or recognise the impact of the menopause on divorce and separation.

Farhana Shahzady, who launched the project earlier this year and is a director of Family Law Partners, said her law firm asked clients “as discreetly as we can” about the menopause as part of its onboarding process.

“The intelligence we gain from that will help inform the process. It could be a question of taking more time to help with paperwork or realising that the court process will be an extra burden.

“I think we would be doing a disservice if we did not ask the question. If you haven’t asked and they haven’t told you, I’m not sure how well you are serving your clients.”

Ms Shahzady said almost half of her firm’s divorce clients were aged 45-55. “The menopause can feel like wading through treacle, making everything much harder just at the time when divorce hits. We’ve had a blind spot on this for too long.”

The survey was based on the views of 102 family lawyers, mainly solicitors but also barristers, chartered legal executives and some judges.

Almost two-thirds (65%) agreed that women were potentially disadvantaged in financial settlements by a lack of understanding within family law of the impact of the menopause.

A slightly smaller majority, 60%, said it was unlikely or extremely unlikely that their clients, whether individually or as a couple, would talk openly about the menopause.

Ms Shahzady 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.”

She said the issue was “still one of those taboos”, which, even within families, parents would not discuss with daughters or siblings with each other.

One respondent to the survey commented: “As a menopausal woman myself with many years’ experience, I have never realised the effect of the menopause on women and it is only now that I have considered it.

“Often marriages end when the menopause hits, which is probably not coincidental. With significantly smaller pensions and reduced earning capacity, women are at a substantial disadvantage even without the health issues that arise.”

Another said: “I have been involved in cases where the woman’s behaviour has changed significantly and which has led to the marriage breaking down.

“I believe these women may likely have been experiencing difficulties as a result of the menopause but which had not been diagnosed.”

Ms Shahzady said: “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.”

However, she said the arrival of no fault divorce this week, by removing “antagonism and conflict” at the start of the process would be particularly helpful for those experiencing menopause.

“It’s a very, very positive move, which opens the way for a smoother process.”

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