Interview with lawyer Farhana Shahzady

Read our interview with Farhana Shahzady, founder of the Family Law Menopause Project and a Director, Mediator, Collaborative Lawyer at Family Law Partners.

Why did you decide to pursue a career in family law?

In truth, I fell into law accidentally having originally read Philosophy for my first degree and subsequently political philosophy for my master’s degree. I was very interested in human rights and how civil society can protect those rights.

In some ways, family law is not very different since whoever you act for, whether that be husband or wife; mother or father etc, you are working hard to understand and establish your client’s rights, entitlements and responsibilities.

I really enjoy the problem-solving element of family law and in my view, lawyers should be looking for solutions that not only work for their own clients but also for the family unit as a whole. I find win/win solutions are better all round for the family if achievable.

I have invested time into training as a mediator and as a collaborative lawyer as well so I can encourage parties to sit down and discuss matters constructively rather than slog it out at court as a matter of default.

I am delighted to work at Family Law Partners, an innovative firm which invests heavily in delivering family-focused solutions and seeks to achieve outcomes which avoid the need for court litigation.

Family lawyers at boutique firms like Family Law Partners are highly specialist and we make available to clients,  family lawyers with multi-faceted techniques, skills and training. We, for example, have an in-house therapist, coach and several mediators to help our clients find solutions that avoid the traditional court process, which is better for them and their families.

Family Law Partners have also launched an innovative service called “Agreeable” which helps both clients (for example, both husband and wife) to work together with a specialist family lawyer and family consultant to help reach consensus, which we can then protect through a legally binding order. Thank goodness family professionals are evolving  – it’s about time we invested in our clients and solutions rather than investing in the dispute.

What do you love most about your work?

That is easy to answer – clients, clients and clients. There are primarily three types of lawyers, in my view. Those whose primary focus is on the client. Those who primarily focus on the law and process and those for whom it is a primarily a job rather than a vocation.

I belong to the first group, I am interested in the client journey – the law for me is simply a tool to transport the client to where they need to get to. And no two clients are the same – the factual matrix and personalities are always different so you have to look for tailored solutions and work alongside the client as co-equals.

As a divorce lawyer, what is your philosophy on all things love and marriage? 

I am not sure passionate love and marriage are always synonymous. I suspect we have very romanticised and simplistic conceptions of love which novels, movies and songs throughout the ages have helped to propagate.

My own personal favourite is “Wuthering Heights” as the archetypal love novel – “My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods. Time will change it, I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees – my love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath – a source of little visible delight, but necessary…I am Heathcliff – he’s always in my mind…”

Interestingly, Linton is her husband and Heathcliff is her childhood sweetheart with whom the relationship remains unexplored and unfulfilled. 

When it comes to movies, who can forget the 1945 film “Brief Encounter” which epitomises stolen and passionate moments outside of marriage. The brilliance of this love affair is its brevity –  a brief love, after all, is never challenged by time or dirty dishes, children or responsibilities. The heroine in the movie has an epiphany and returns to the safety of her husband.

I think marriage is a lot like a garden and it requires effort, planning, pruning, fertilising, trimming, and watering but can deliver long-term abundance and joy. Sadly not everyone is a gardener which is why divorce lawyers like me are required but I remain optimistic and hopeful that marriages are an incredibly successful medium for love, friendship and flourishing.

The seasons can change but by giving time to your spouse, you can weather most things. If not, then exits don’t have to be horrible, take the time to find the lawyer that can help you to navigate the often complex issues without antagonising them further.

What has been your proudest moment so far? 

I am a second-generation, South Asian woman who was born in Liverpool and from a working-class, state-educated background. I am proud of my parents for their sacrifices and proud of my achievements which honoured their sacrifice.

I took up every opportunity that was given to me to develop and progress both academically and professionally. My parents instilled in their children the importance of fairness and gratitude. I feel very grateful for everything that came my way and whilst I have met many of my professional goals, there is still much to be done. 

Who inspires you?

Lots of people inspire me and at the moment I am working with Dr Louise Newson who is a trailblazer and is revolutionising our understanding of menopause; its health impact and the best ways to tackle the problems that can ensue through HRT or otherwise. She is helping women to talk about these vital issues so they can be addressed. Her Balance app and podcast series is outstanding and informative.

Another podcast that I am very inspired by is Oprah Winfrey’s “Super Soul” series that provides insight and inspiration from renowned thought leaders across the world like Elizabeth Gilbert, Deepak Chopra, Gary Zukav, Eckhart Tolle – it’s a dazzling array of thinkers.

Oprah, herself is the most remarkable woman bearing in mind she has raised herself up from poverty and achieved so much in public life whilst remaining humble, mindful and charitable. 

Why did you launch The Family Law Menopause Project?

I launched the Family Law Menopause Project earlier this year with an aim to raise awareness amongst the family law community of the impact of menopause on many women so that family lawyers can ensure that their advice leads to a fair financial outcome for their female clients on divorce, bearing in mind retirement is often around the corner as well.

I have practiced for 20 years and become increasingly aware, if not at times alarmed, that the legal climate for wives is becoming hawkish. There is sometimes an unhelpful failure by many in the family law profession to acknowledge, let alone talk about the hormonal changes which may make it very hard for some women to achieve financial independence or the so-called  “clean break” which is expected on divorce. 

The research shows 8 out of 10 women have menopausal symptoms which may have an impact on their daily life and for 1 in 4, the symptoms are debilitating. No doubt this helps to explain why 1 in 10 women have left work altogether which has a huge financial impact on them especially when divorcing.

The peak age at which women are divorcing is between around 45 and 55, which corresponds with the time when perimenopause and menopause are having a peak impact. Therein lies the problem – it can be the perfect storm since perimenopause/menopause/divorce/empty nest syndrome/struggling to work/health issues can cohere and be devastating financially and otherwise.

The aim of the project is to flag the issues and to work towards solutions. I want to see women succeed as well as men after divorce.

Find out more about Family Law Partners.