Brain fog and forgetfulness: the impact of menopause on divorce and separation
Why do so many marriages break down midlife? Is there a menopause-induced midlife crisis that fuels separations and divorce? LGFL Managing Director Rita Gupta shares her thoughts.
As a family lawyer, I have seen first-hand the influence of the menopause and perimenopause in the breakdown of marriages in midlife. According to recent figures from the ONS, 60% of all divorce petitions are started by women. 40% of those petitions are from women aged between 45 and 55. This is the age group most likely to be going through the menopause or perimenopause.
Lawyers and the menopause
Earlier this year, the Family Law Menopause Project surveyed practitioners and family lawyers to find out their views on the effects of menopause amongst their clients. Law practitioners generally acknowledged that there was a lack of understanding of menopause amongst lawyers.
The FLMP survey showed that:
- 81% of family lawyers are failing to understand or recognize the impact of menopause and perimenopause on divorce and separation.
- 65% of respondents agreed that women are potentially disadvantaged in terms of financial settlements.
This, they felt, was due to a lack of understanding on the effect menopause and perimenopause would have on women’s earning capability after separation.
As Farhana Shahzady, founder of the Family Law Menopause Project said:
"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.”
Another issue highlighted was the stigma of talking about menopause. It's difficult enough to talk about menopause to your partner, and even more so to your employer. It is therefore remarkably difficult to a family lawyer that you may have only met briefly, before opening up about menopause symptoms in an interview.
How menopause affects women
It has been estimated that 13 million women in the UK are of menopausal age. Of these, one in four will experience severe symptoms that will affect their ability to function normally at home, at work, and socially.
Menopause is a natural, endocrine imbalance when women experience hormonal decline and their periods become irregular before stopping altogether.
Perimenopause is the curtain raiser to this major change, as the NHS website explains:
“Perimenopause is when you have symptoms before your periods have stopped. You reach menopause when you have not had a period for 12 months.”
So, technically, menopause starts when a woman’s periods ends. However, symptoms can start months or years before this happens, and continue for an average of four years after the end of regular periods.
- Hot flushes
- Anxiety and low mood
- Problems sleeping
- Memory problems
- Feelings of claustrophobia
- Brain fog
- Cardiac symptoms, including heart palpitations
- Aching joints
- Profound fatigue
Some of these symptoms will be familiar, some less so. The pandemic has made many us more familiar (sadly) with similar symptoms such as anxiety, low mood, claustrophobia and problems sleeping.
Brain fog and decision making
Anyone who's experienced brain fog as a result of long COVID will know just how much this affects your ability to think logically, rationally, or indeed to think at all. Brain fog can cause people to make poor decisions or forget important information.
The combination of brain fog and a lack of energy and fatigue can affect levels of concentration, and the ability to sustain focus when faced with an ongoing legal situation, such as a divorce. This is often coupled with an underlying feeling of profound unhappiness and despair.
Menopause and partners
It's not just lawyers who may not understand. A Stowe Law study on the impact of the menopause on marriage and relationship showed that 76% of women felt their partner or spouse simply didn't have the knowledge to support them through the menopause.
Menopause affected their relationship in other ways, with the top five being:
- A loss of physical intimacy
- A lack of understanding of what a female partner was going through.
- More frequent arguments
- A lack of communication
- Generally growing apart
Menopause and the family lawyer
Such a guide might be useful for family lawyers of any gender who may not simply understand what their clients are going through. It could also help clients to understand how the menopause may affect their ability to function as they would wish during the divorce process.
As a (currently) all-female family law firm, we are very aware of how the menopause can impact on work life and family life in general. Some of the team have been through it themselves, with varying degrees of symptoms and severity.
As a result, we can gently encourage our clients to talk about their menopause symptoms and to recognise the impact the menopause may have on them and their mindset. Whilst there isn't specific provision in law for those going through perimenopause or menopause, we are encouraged as practitioners to consider this as a factor in the overall case. Any experienced family lawyer should be ensuring this is not missed.
A little more understanding
Our experienced and pragmatic approach can also help our male divorce clients too, who may not have the foggiest idea, (pardon the pun) of what their partner is actually going through. Sometimes simply making them aware can help the process of separation be more amicable by shedding light on how symptoms can affect outlook, decision making and speed of communications.
Menopause and perimenopause symptoms have a nasty habit of being perfectly manageable one day and knocking clients sideways the next. Again, a little understanding goes a long way to helping clients through a difficult time both physically and mentally.
Menopause and financial settlements
In our next article, we’ll explore how to ensure women in menopause don't miss out on a fair financial divorce settlement simply as a result of low hormone levels.
Help and advice from LGFL
If you or your partner are suffering as a result of the menopause, help is out there. GPs can offer treatments, employers can be accommodating and (in our case at least) family lawyers can offer you the time, space and support needed.
- Call us
- Email us