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Uncovered - the menopause divorce

A survey has revealed menopause to be a contributing factor in the rise in divorce rates amongst mid-life couples, as Chrissy Iley discovers when she talks to divorce specialist lawyer, Sarah Crilly.

In 2022, national law firm Stowe Family Law commissioned a survey which led them to uncover a trend they have described as the menopause divorce. The results of the survey showed that 60% of divorces in the UK are initiated by women in their 40s, 50s, and 60s – the ages when they are typically peri-menopausal, menopausal or post-menopausal – with divorce rates peaking for couples between 45 and 49 years old.

That certainly reflected the experiences of the team at Stowe, who receive a significant proportion of the divorce enquiries they get from women in their 40s and 50s.

Changing out of sync

At the root of these statistics are the issues caused or heightened by the menopausal years which can, of course, be transformational in so many ways. Couples who find themselves dealing with change, often not at the same rate and often in different directions, are very likely to fall out of sync. Although the impact of the physical, psychological and cognitive symptoms of menopause can be overwhelming, 65% of women who took part in the survey said that their menopausal years had negatively affected their relationship and 50% of those polled worried that a lack of sex could lead to their relationship ending.

Of course, menopause is not the only life-changing event to have an impact on divorce, there are many other divorce danger zones including pregnancy and empty nest syndrome. But it is often these Lifestage changes can magnify existing issues and in the case of the menopause, frequently come at the time and age when women feel they’ve had enough in so many ways.

More women initiating divorce

Sarah Crilly, a leading divorce lawyer in the North East and Partner at Stowe says “although research suggests that seven out of 10 women and men blame menopause for divorce, I rarely see menopause formally cited as a direct cause of the end of a marriage. It’s certainly no coincidence however, that the most common age of divorce in the UK is between 45 and 55. And ONS statistics show that 62% of divorces between those ages are initiated by women.

Perimenopause and menopause are particularly challenging times for women and their relationships. They find themselves feeling anxious, depressed and lacking in self-confidence and inevitably, this impacts marriages, causing new issues and highlighting existing struggles. Just as we saw in the Covid-19 pandemic, it is the relationships that are already struggling that do not have the resilience to survive challenging times such as the menopause.

The perfect storm

Of course, occasionally we get clients who are the cliche of a man in his 50’s who believes there is a long line of younger women waiting for him and wants to spend the family savings on a fast car, but this is rare. In reality, it’s far more likely that our clients are couples whose relationship did not have the strength to weather the rollercoaster emotions and changes brought about by the menopause.The age at which menopause generally happens is what can make it the perfect storm combination of stage, change and boredom – on both sides. I think it was Raymond Tooth (a legendary divorce solicitor) who said “men leave women for younger women, women leave men because they can’t stand the man anymore.” and this all comes crashing together at the same point in the couples lives. One man I know blamed his wife for getting a cat and putting it before him!”

By the time a woman has been married for 20+ years, her love for her partner can be either solidly established or she has had enough, and that certainly does coincide with what used to be called ‘the change’ in life.

Happier new lives

Sarah helps her clients work through the psychological and practical challenges they face, even if they do involve cats. “My role,” she says “is to make the experience of divorcing as pain-free and eventually invigorating as possible. Many of my clients – male and female – have moved forward after their divorces and built happier new lives. Some change their careers, sometimes retraining, some move to a new and different place, and significant numbers have found love again, building stronger relationships using lessons learned from their past ones.”

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