26th May 2022

FLiP at National Conference: Family Law, The Menopause and Infertility

FLiP at National Conference: Family Law, The Menopause and Infertility

FLiP Associate Vanessa Sampaio writes: it was an honour to co-moderate the menopause and infertility workshop on Saturday 21 May at this year’s Resolution First for Family Law National Conference, alongside Oluwapelumi Amanda Adeola.

These two important topics really are ‘everyone’s issue’ and we shared the floor with some incredible panel members who took us through the issues.

Farhana Shahzady and Emilie Helm of Family Law Partners gave some insight in to how the menopause can affect women going through financial remedy proceedings on a divorce or separation. Dr Louise Newson provided some expert context as to what women go through in this stage of their lives. Lots of the symptoms women display may go unrecognized as such in their marriage, and even by their own GPs. We, as family lawyers, may also put some of the signs such as brain fog, confusion, irritability, loss of confidence and a lack of sleep experienced by our clients down to the stress of the divorce or separation. However, menopause (and the earlier perimenopause) is a more profound issue than is generally recognized and it can have debilitating effects for many, with 1 in 10 women reported to have left the workforce due to this.

The audience of family law professionals were provided with some useful tips about how to approach their female clients in this regard; encouraging lawyers to be curious, sensitive and to consider from the outset whether menopause or perimenopause may have a bearing on the client’s circumstances. Consideration should be given to how the case is managed in terms of choosing an appropriate process for the client and potentially seeking expert medical evidence. We also queried the aspirational “clean break” financial order and the general assumption that a woman of menopausal age should be able to adjust without undue hardship to financial independence within a fixed and narrow period.

Following up, we had an eye opening conversation around the issues of infertility and pregnancy loss led by Natalie Sutherland of Burgess Mee and Somaya Ouazzani of Mimoza Fleur. They drew to light some very poignant anecdotes that demonstrate how male and female lawyers often grapple with this personal issue in the workplace in silence, alongside trying to balance their careers. They advocated for a culture change within law firms so that those going through these issues can speak more openly with their employers about their difficulties and to enable dialogue about how adjustments might be made to support them.

Thoughtful solutions encouraging organisations to make structural change in this area included appointing a dedicated fertility officer so that staff have a safe space to speak to a particular person about this subject; employers creating fertility policies that may incorporate benefits such as additional time off work where needed; contributions to fertility treatments or interest free loans; and facilitating staff to meet with a fertility coach to assist with managing the high stress that comes with undergoing the process.

The menopause and infertility workshop followed hot on the heels of a thought provoking debate on the menopause and family law at 36 Family’s Family Law Live on 17th May. The debate focused on the robust assumptions as to the future earning capacity of women in the context of the clean break culture of the family courts. It was acknowledged that for many women divorce and separation often coincides with the onset of the menopause and for those women who suffer particularly badly from the symptoms of the menopause, robust assumptions about a future earning capacity may be unfair.

It also follows the successful In/Fertility in the City events which took place late last year with participation from corporate and in-house lawyers, as well as a fertility coach, which was a first of its kind to launch a discussion around the personal and professional challenges of infertility.

There is more thought and debate to be had in this area but it is good to see these issues being aired and recognized in the family law world. We hope very much that the menopause and infertility, two important issues, continue to be spoken about to bring them to the fore, to build conscious awareness and to change attitudes and approaches around these subjects.