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.