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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I am more than 60 years of age and have been married 25 years. My husband and I have been living apart for five years, but he will not agree to a legal separation. (We have no children.)

I have been forced to agree to minimal monthly support. However, our agreement has never been put in writing because my husband will not agree to anything formal, and I cannot afford to hire a lawyer to represent me. My husband is involved in another relationship now, but says he has no intention of divorcing me.

My problem: I filed for Social Security, and he reduced my monthly support payment by the same amount, thus leaving me in the same financial position I was in before -- nothing left for savings or emergencies. I want to work, but he has threatened to further reduce the monthly payment by the amount I would receive from working. I would not be able to "hide" money I earn, because we file joint income tax returns. My husband's position with regard to this leaves me frustrated and without incentive.

Please give me some advice. A divorce will be very involved since there is a lot of money and property at stake. I have consulted two lawyers; each one asked for a significant retainer fee, not to mention the $250 to $350 just to consult with them. I am stuck. I really need help. -- PRISONER IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

DEAR PRISONER: I spoke with prominent California family law specialist Jill Greenspahn. I think you will be interested in what she has to say:

(1) Your husband doesn't have to "agree" for you to have a legal separation.

(2) If you can't afford a lawyer, check into hiring a paralegal.

(3) You don't "have" to file a joint tax return. You can file separately if you wish.

(4) Since there is money and property to divide in your divorce, you can pledge a portion of it as payment for legal fees. But even more important, in California, the earner -- in your case, that's your husband -- MUST PROVIDE LEGAL FEES FOR THE WIFE'S REPRESENTATION -- and any lawyers worth their salt know that!

I'm pulling for you, dear lady.

DEAR ABBY: I always overeat when I'm watching television. I watch TV only at mealtime on weekends -- when I'm alone and tired from attending classes and doing homework. My parents work on the weekends, so I end up eating by myself.

I don't eat as much during the week because I have dinner with school friends, but when I'm alone I continue to eat -- even when I am full.

Abby, how can I control my desire to eat when I'm alone watching TV? -- ANNY IN SOUTH KOREA

DEAR ANNY: By understanding that what you are doing is feeding loneliness, and NOT your appetite. One way to break the habit would be to invite friends to join you for dinner on the weekends. Another way would be to refrain from watching TV while eating your dinner. Good luck.

What teens need to know about sex, drugs, AIDS and getting along with peers and parents is in "What Every Teen Should Know." To order, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $5 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby -- Teen Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in the price.)

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