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Menopausal and getting divorced? How to make your split as smooth as possible
Why mediation and other alternative dispute resolutions can save time, money and safeguard your mental health
It’s becoming increasingly clear that divorce and menopause often go hand in hand.
Recent research by the Family Law Menopause Project and Newson Health Research and Education cements what has been long assumed, but never proven, that the menopause has a negative impact on divorce, separation and relationships.
Our poll of almost 1,000 women found that 7 out of 10 (73%) respondents blamed the menopause for the breakdown of their marriage.
Many women are reporting that they find divorce and accompanying litigation paperwork extremely burdensome. Menopause symptoms such as brain fog, anxiety, insomnia, mood changes and depression (to name but a few) make it difficult for women to remember facts of their case or meet court deadlines and deal with complex legal arguments when it comes to splitting the money or sorting arrangements for their children.
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The impact of divorce litigation laid bare
Divorce litigation is akin to traditional knife to skin, open surgery.
It’s replete with risks – you could bleed out (cash on extensive legal costs), experience collateral damage and long-term ill effects (to family loved ones and children) and be scarred for life (emotionally).
Outcomes are hard to predict as well since you are largely putting your trust in the hands of a single judge at trial – who could after all, be having a bad day, experiencing a drop in sugar levels or maybe even a hot flush.
There are better ways to deal with divorce and its aftermath than court litigation, especially for women who are experiencing the perimenopause and menopause, and who want to achieve outcomes with less hostility and better efficacy when it comes to costs, time taken and their mental health.
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The thought of giving evidence in the witness box is horrifying for most, let alone if you are a woman experiencing brain fog, cognitive impairment, and anxiety.
But throwing in the towel is not an option either if that means giving up on splitting the assets fairly or accepting arrangements for the children which do not suit them and far from ideal.
Alternatives to divorce litigation
Like HRT, which helps many women to ameliorate the worst of the perimenopause and menopause symptoms, help is at hand in the family forum by virtue of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) when navigating a difficult divorce.
Several ADR options are available and worth considering alongside your family lawyer. These include:
Mediation is a voluntary process where an independent, professionally-trained mediator can help the client find solutions to issues they are experiencing when going through a divorce, separation or dissolution of a civil partnership and all the related issues involving finances and children.
Mediation is a safe and constructive place for open and honest conversations to take place and decent mediators can skilfully guide the client in discussions to help find a way forward after divorce or separation.
The job of the mediator is to seek to bring everyone together to reach a fair resolution.
One of the key benefits of mediation is its flexibility and its lower cost. Mediation can be conducted at a pace that suits both the parties involved, unlike the court process which can be slow and inconvenient.
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It also allows both the parties involved to set the agenda and discuss what is important to them in an environment and pace which suits them. Where appropriate, it may also be possible to involve children in the process, enabling their voices to be heard.
Costs of mediation are a fraction of those involved in court proceedings and so it’s definitely worth considering mediation in most cases.
This process involves all parties, including collaboratively-trained family lawyers, sitting around a table to discuss and work through the issues surrounding divorce or separation, instead of having decisions imposed upon them by the court.
The collaborative process is completely confidential, and it allows both parties to stay in control of their personal situation. This often establishes a more flexible, creative approach to financial and childcare arrangements than may have been possible with the traditional court process.
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Solicitor-led negotiations can take place at any point during a divorce or separation and can often reduce conflict in the relationship, ultimately making the experience less stressful for everyone involved. It can also be used during court proceedings, to help negotiations and to reach settlement before final trial if possible.
Usually taking the form of round table meetings or telephone and letter correspondence, solicitor-led negotiation can be particularly useful for families where children are involved. It offers parents more control, and a chance for them to work together to decide the best care arrangements for their child.
As with mediation and the collaborative process, a family therapist can be used to help with any emotional issues that are causing difficulty in reaching an agreement.
Arbitration is another dispute resolution process which can be used by people when they are not able to resolve issues during a divorce or separation.
So long as both parties agree on using the arbitration process, an arbitrator can adjudicate on all the issues and can take the time to understand what is involved, whether it’s to do with finances or child arrangements. This will give the parties involved a fair, impartial and binding decision on the specific concerns they have.
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Arbitration is an effective alternative to the court deciding the way forward and, like the other dispute resolution processes, offers greater control and the ability to tailor what is needed.
The family courts are currently extremely stretched, and the arbitration process is instead designed around the parties needs and timescales.
Emotional support and family coaches
Family consultants, therapists and coaches are regularly used to reduce the emotional stress and impact for clients throughout divorce or separation and often work side by side with the family lawyer in a complimentary way. They can help shock absorb some of the added stress that comes from menopause and divorce.
Thankfully there is growing awareness amongst some family lawyers that litigation should now be a last resort and it is vital that women find a sympathetic family lawyer skilled in the latest dispute resolution techniques.
These techniques are akin to keyhole surgery and appropriate for many cases that otherwise find themselves in court.
Farhana Shahzady is Director, Solicitor, Collaborative Lawyer and Mediator at Family Law Partners and founder of The Family Law Menopause Project.