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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.

Feeding loneliness

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.

Blow whistle on food cop

Dear Abby: I am a 53-year-old woman who is 100-plus pounds overweight. Six months ago, I finally made a commitment to lose the excess pounds, and with my doctor's approval, joined a weight reduction program. Slowly but surely, I am succeeding. I intend to stick with it.

The problem is my live-in boyfriend, "Jack." I know he loves me and has my best interests at heart, but he acts like a "food cop." I resent being given the third degree, and being told what and when to eat and drink.

Abby, is there any tactful way to tell Jack to butt out? If he keeps this up, I could fall into some of my old eating habits, and I don't want that to happen.

-- Big Girl in Des Moines
Dear Big Girl: You are starting to make progress, and for that I congratulate you. The next time your boyfriend acts like a "food cop," tell him you know he means well, but this is a project you need to do on your own -- for yourself and by yourself. Explain that when someone looks over your shoulder, it makes you nervous, and when you get nervous you want to overeat. So he should please stop.

Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Write Dear Abby at or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.

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