I came across a podcast on the menopause the other day… and then an article… and then I saw a book on it… You may well have had a similar experience. It seems like the menopause is (finally) a "hot topic" (no pun intended). It's in the newspaper, Davina's making documentaries, and I can't go on a run with my local running group without someone bringing it up. Maybe it's just my age, but I don't think so. It seems that one of the last great taboos may be being broken.
But what about in the divorce arena? Are people talking about the menopause and should you? This is particularly important to consider given not just the number of women who experience severe symptoms (a recent survey, and the basis of that Davina documentary, found that 77% of women surveyed experienced one or more symptom they would describe as “very difficult” and one in ten who had worked during the menopause had left a job as a result) but also given that statistically the age of menopause and divorce often coincide.
From my perspective, there are a few things to bear in mind:
1. Divorce lawyers, barristers and judges are watching the same TV programmes and reading the same newspapers. And a lot of them are women too. So yes, people are talking about the menopause. And yes, those same people are thinking about it in the context of divorce law, not just their own lives. In particular, they are thinking about whether the symptoms of divorce may impact a woman's needs with regards to a financial settlement on divorce. There have been recent seminars and recent journal articles on just this topic and there is definitely a greater understanding in the family law context of what the menopause entails and why it might be relevant.
2. Peri-menopause and menopause will be experienced differently by different people. For some raising it as a factor to be considered in a financial settlement might seem absurd. For others, it is going to have a clear impact on their ability to work, for example, and their consequent financial needs. This is a major benefit of our discretionary system. The court must consider all the facts of your particular case, including your individual needs and if the menopause is impacting your finances now or going forwards, that is important for your lawyer to consider.
3. Perhaps most important of all, if you are dealing with relationship breakdown, you are probably already suffering with some of the symptoms of menopause - anxiety and fatigue for example. Add in the peri-menopause or menopause and you have a double whammy. You are going to need support, not just from a medical perspective, but from those around you. That should include your divorce lawyer. And if you don't trust your lawyer with that information, then to be honest you should probably be instructing somebody else you do trust.
4. Trusting your lawyer is one thing, but trusting your husband's lawyer will likely be harder. And the menopause is undoubtedly a hugely personal topic, whether or not the taboo is shattered. I know that I would be hesitant to open it up as a topic for debate (and worst case, cross examination in court) if I were the client. For me, it would come down to getting good legal advice about the potential benefits of disclosing this (will it really impact my settlement?), good expert medical evidence (obtained with my lawyer's assistance) about the impact of the menopause on me, and a large dose of self-confidence. Again, having the right lawyer can help hugely with all of this.
So, should I talk about it? Absolutely yes - tell your divorce lawyer as soon as you can. And tell them of your needs too – do you want to have attendance notes sent to you following each call, for example, in case you need help with short term memory? But then leave it up to them to advise you on whether it is worth talking about it as a factor in your financial settlement, and to support you if you decide to proceed in that way.