Monday, 30 March 2009


I am presently reading “The Mighty Queens of Freeville” by Amy Dickinson, an advice columnist in the USA. In it she tells the story of her life particularly following her divorce. I’m sure that once I’ve finished it, I shall be reviewing it in this blog. In the meantime and with the kind permission of both Amy and her publishers, Hyperion, I am reproducing below a short essay that Amy has written

Fresh Starts
by Amy Dickinson

I am something of a specialist in starting over.

I don’t reinvent myself when I start over, though sometimes I do get a haircut. What happens to me is that I embrace a new opportunity to experience joy. Happiness. A new haircut. A fresh start. All of that happens after the crying, of course. Preceding each fresh start there are periods of crying, wringing my hands, and not knowing what to do next.

Fortunately for me, when it comes to embracing new beginnings, I have a secret weapon – several of them, in fact. My mother, aunts, and older sisters showed me by example how it’s done. When my own father, a dairy farmer, left our family, he left my mother with four children and a barn full of Holsteins that needed to be milked twice a day. My mother stoically pushed up her sleeves, got her first paying job as a typist in an office, put food on the table and kept our household together. She occasionally leaned on her sisters – also single mothers – and they traded off propping each other up, encouraging, and lending each other money.

Women, I think, tend to experience many fresh starts. We embrace romance, we marry, we have babies, enter, leave and then re-enter the workforce. Sometimes, our romances fade. Our children grow and leave. Our parents age and need us. We start over.

After my own husband suddenly left our marriage, I started over as a single mother. I raised my daughter, Emily, the best way I knew how, with the women in my life watching my back. Emily saw me start new jobs, tolerate unemployment, and suffer through blind dates. We started over a few times, she and I. After living in London, we moved to Washington DC and then Chicago. Each time, we made a home for ourselves, complete with friends, pets, houseplants, and new job opportunities. In 17 years as a single mother, I learned how to roll with the punches, to make and change plans, and to embrace the possibilities.

When Emily graduated from high school and left home for college, I chose another new beginning. I moved back to my little hometown of Freeville, NY – back to the landscape of my childhood and back into the orbit of the inspiring women who raised me. I was there, ostensibly, to care for my mother, who was ailing, but what I received for myself was another fresh start. There, among my family, I became a caregiver – and, surrounded by the people of my world, I started again.

I was already happy, but then one day joy literally came knocking on my door. He was someone I’ve known my whole life, and after an old fashioned period of courtship, we submitted to our happy ending, and after 17 long years of single mothering, I got yet another fresh start.

While on my book tour, I’m frequently reminded of my own vulnerabilities. I miss my family and I can’t seem to find a fresh place to change my clothes. When I start to take myself too seriously, I remember that around every corner lurks a pack of mumbling 15-year-olds, prepared to waste me by rejection. But then I draw on the lessons learned by a long life of starting over – and I decide to keep going.

Sunday, 29 March 2009


He disappeared in the middle of the night whilst she slept, but this morning there was no denying he had gone. The day dawned grey and dull; there was a chill to make her heart shiver with a thick frost on the ground. As the time wore on, it was easier to get to grips with what had happened. The sun broke through and she even managed to smile. Then, as she changed her clocks, she thought, “He’ll be back when the days grow short again, British Summer Time never lasts long.”

Thursday, 26 March 2009


Let me begin by saying first of all that I have never before had any reason to believe in UFOs. Like most lawyers I am assumed to lack imagination and accept only what is proved to me.

Recently, however, I was driving home from Northallerton, passing through open countryside, when I encountered a peculiar sighting that I would like to share with you. What seemed to be a ball of yellow light sped quickly across the road in an arc. The car in front of me applied its brakes, as I too instinctively slowed down to watch the strange mass which was plummeting towards a field ahead of me on the nearside. I anticipated that some kind of crash was going to occur when the flying object suddenly changed course within 40 or so feet of the ground; there was a flash of green as it appeared to accelerate away and then it disappeared into thin air!
Several weeks later I still cannot explain what it was that I saw and, in hope more than anticipation, have looked at the recently published MOD records. Of course I didn’t find the answer, but one of the entries from Carlisle on an unspecified date in 2008 caught my attention. The witness reporting the incident had seen a UFO and there was an alien in his house! Poignantly it reminded me of the divorce case I handled once upon a time where a client told me he’d had a brilliant honeymoon, brought his bride home to Darlington and then found he was living with an alien for the next 20 years!

Thursday, 19 March 2009


Last week, Steve Davis, an esteemed senior cyclist, gave a talk on winning to the members of Darlington Business Club. During his presentation he showed us his collection of World Masters’ medals as well as referring to a quotation by Vince Lombardi, the American football coach, which he had taken to heart and made his own.

“Winning is not a sometime thing, it’s an all time thing. You don’t win once in a while, you don’t do things right once in a while, you do things right all the time.” However, our speaker had then added to this: “There is no room for second place. There is only one place and that’s first place.”

This is a belief and way of life that leads to success whether it’s on the track or in the boardroom. However, it probably doesn’t translate too well in domestic situations. As a family lawyer, I couldn’t help but think that for my own clients it is not a useful mantra. Divorce is no place for the “I don’t just need to win, I have to be seen to win” mentality, especially when frequently it is exactly that attitude that can cause a marriage to breakdown in the first place. So let’s leave winning where it belongs, in the competitive worlds of sport and business.

Monday, 16 March 2009


Whilst out walking in Arkengarthdale yesterday, we came across frogs canoodling in a rather deep puddle on a bridleway. Surrounded by their spawn, they appeared to be delighting in each other’s company. As we approached, a vociferous male who definitely wasn’t saying “reddit,” made it clear that our presence was unwelcome. It was a sharp reminder, in case we needed one, not to intervene in the marital relations of others.

Sunday, 15 March 2009


Last week the media reported how a Gloucestershire builder came up with an ingenious idea to put divorce lawyers out of work. Instead of visiting a solicitor he put his wife up for sale, advertising her in the classified section of Trade-It as “Nagging wife. Very high maintenance – some rust.”

Friday, 13 March 2009


Resolution is backing calls to bring family law into line with the needs of modern families and is supporting leading lawmaker Lord Lester’s Bill on cohabitation, which is debated in Parliament today. Lord Lester’s Cohabitation Bill aims to ensure that both cohabitants are treated fairly when they split up and to provide a safety net for vulnerable people. It gives legal rights to cohabitants who have shown commitment to each other without undermining marriage or civil partnership or freedom of choice. The Cohabitation Bill represents the third time in a decade that Lord Lester has stepped in to modernise family law. His Civil Partnership Bill 2002 was the predecessor to the government’s Civil Partnership Act 2004, and his Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Bill was passed into law with the support of the Government in 2007.

Family law on cohabitation is completely out of step with modern family life. Cohabitation is the fastest growing family type in the UK and marriage rates are plummeting. But couples who live together have no legal protection, regardless of the length of their relationship or whether they have children together.
Despite this, over fifty percent of people still falsely believe cohabitants are protected by ‘common law marriage’. It’s a disgrace in modern times that families across the country are still left at risk of serious financial hardship if the relationship ends or if a partner dies.

Lord Lester’s Cohabitation Bill, which will be debated in the House of Lords today, aims to give legal rights to cohabitants who have been living together for at least two years, or who have a child together. Couples will have the right to opt out of the scheme if they choose to.

Despite widespread popular support for reform, with almost nine out of ten people backing the right for cohabitants to make financial claims on the breakdown of a relationship or death of a partner, progress on this issue has been slow in Parliament. Now Lord Lester’s Bill will bring hope to millions of cohabitants across the country.

Lord Lester has said: “My Bill represents a new opportunity to deal effectively with this issue, and I am hopeful that the government and parliament will support it to prevent more and more people and their children from being faced with poverty and hardship in these troubling economic times.”

Families come in all shapes and sizes. At a time of recession, families need financial security through laws that protect them, whether they have opted for marriage or not.

Saturday, 7 March 2009


Yesterday evening I attended Tees Valley Law Society’s Annual Dinner. It’s 2 or 3 years since I was last present and there was a definite change from the last occasion. Whilst the male dominated arena was still resplendent in its bow ties and dinner jackets, the ladies’ dresses had definitely altered. When I was last there brightly coloured, full-length, strapless evening gowns were very much the preferred garb. Last night, however, the ladies too were in sombre black and rarely did their hemlines extend below their knees. Austere times, notably after last century’s two World Wars, traditionally result in a curtailment of the volume of fabric used in women’s clothing. Presumably, therefore, last night was a definite illustration of the effects of recession and the need to cut one’s cloth accordingly. Oh dear, if the economic situation worsens then next year might find the ladies donned only in vests! I guess that’s an occasion this Darlington divorce solicitor will definitely forego.

Hemlines are not the only things that have been affected by the recession recently. Financial constraints are inevitably putting pressure on couples. As a result Relate published figures showing that its services are in increased demand but that less people are able to pay the full cost for these. Then Harriet Harman launched a booklet at an event at 11 Downing Street entitled, “Real Help Now for Women,” aimed to ensure that women know what support is available for them during the economic crisis and on the back of statistics that show that a large proportion are concerned about the effect the downturn is having on family life.

When funds are desperately needed to prop up family life, one might view the Government as considerate in authorising the printing of an extra £75 billion. I wonder how much of it is going to find its way to resolving relationship breakdowns? Not enough if the further cuts in legal aid presently being mooted and the problems in the family courts reported by the Bar Council this week, are anything to go by!

Wednesday, 4 March 2009


Well what an exciting evening I’m having: a committee meeting, half an hour of television and now I’ve just finished sorting socks. Yes, socks – straight out of the washing machine and dryer.

Putting them into pairs, I couldn’t help but notice how they seemed to mirror human relationships.

There were the nearly-new twosomes that some proud housewives probably put into the washing machine bound together with those little clips I’ve seen in magazines, so they always emerge in pairs. There were also some brightly coloured reds and greens; I couldn’t find the matching ones so I rolled them together anyway, on the basis that opposites attract.

A few years ago I resolved only ever to buy Apprentice Man one colour and design of sock. Hence as I pulled a dozen or so out together, they were easy enough to match up, though some looked a little worn or ragged compared to their partner and I’m sure one or two are shrinking.

The frustrating part however was when I was left with a pile of unique and solitary patterned items. Why is it that they go into my machines in pairs and innumerable tumbles later emerge as divorced items, their other half never to be seen again? Mind that may be better than the adventurous ones I find paired up with pillow cases or other unsuitable textiles; stick to your own kind – not those. You put them into the wash with their mate of several years and they go off with your old woollen jumper.

I have a friend who puts her socks into a net bag to wash them. That way they can never elope; a little like locking up your daughters for their own well being, I suppose. Maybe it’s got to be that or else knitted tights from now on!