I got married young and divorced young. The marriage was what we lawyers would call a ‘short marriage’, lasting only a few years with no children and no assets.
What we had, as so many young people do, is debt. We were irresponsible because we could be: with bright, professional futures ahead of us that would lead to untold opportunity, immense and enviable networks and, of course, a glistening lifestyle. Until it didn’t.
I won’t go into the ins and outs of why my marriage broke down, but when it did, the only things to ‘share’ were debts. At the time, I saw New York as my home and I wanted to go back, having only left to try to save my marriage. But New York was barely on the road to recovery following September 11th and, to leave the marriage, I faced unsurmountable, crippling debt and one of the worst job markets in decades. I went back to New York anyway. The future looked bleak.
My divorce was finalised on 15 October 2004. I had found a job over the bridge in New Jersey but the commuting costs were staggering and I struggled to make ends meet – sometimes, they just didn’t – and it wasn’t long before Christmas rolled around.
Times were difficult
I wanted a tree. I needed a Christmas tree and I had set aside $25 because that’s all I could spare. But when I went to lot to try to get a tree, they were all over $50. How could that be? I wanted to cry. Luckily, the attendant could sense my distress and offered me the smallest tree they had for $20. I took it and was never before so happy to load a fire hazard into the back of my car. I managed to get a few baubles, some ribbon and a string of lights from the dollar store and headed back to Brooklyn with my load, humming and singing Christmas carols the whole way.
It wasn’t until I was parking my car that I realised I didn’t have a tree stand. Deflated, I started negotiating with myself: I could lean it against the wall in the corner; I could try to rig a saucepan; maybe a neighbour has a stand they aren’t using….and then…as I approached the door to my building…there it was atop the pile of rubbish waiting for collection: a tree stand! Words could not express my elation! I snapped it up and bounded up the stairs to my apartment faster than the Grinch stole Christmas!
My Charlie Brown Christmas
As I quickly set about decorating my little, beloved tree, I couldn’t help but think of one of my favourite Christmas movies growing up, Charles Schulz’ A Charlie Brown Christmas. For those not familiar with this American classic, the typically ill-fated but intrepid Charlie Brown picks the smallest, scrawniest Christmas tree to decorate for the school play. He sees its beauty, its value and its potential when no one else does. My little tree had, beauty value and potential and so did I.
Now, all these years later, my little Charlie Brown Christmas tree continues to resonate with me and remains one of my fondest Christmas memories. And, asI look around at the twinkling lights, my full-sized and fully adorned tree and I am beyond grateful to everyone who has helped and supported me along the way: friends, family, colleagues, strangers and my wonderful clients. I am also grateful that, even when my self-belief was well and truly waning, I never gave up.
I got through, and so can you…..
If your relationship is breaking down or you are going through a divorce, get solid legal advice from a lawyer who understands you and your position, hold on to hope and look to a future filled with twinkling Christmas lights and fond memories.
Wishing you a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Chrissie Cuming Walters is a partner in the Family Department at Keystone Law and a dual-qualified Solicitor of England & Wales and US Attorney-at-Law, recently dubbed ‘best of breed’ in Spears magazine and winner of the Women in Law, Family Law UK award for 2020