Editor’s Note: Erica Manfred, author of He’s History, You’re Not: Surviving Divorce After 40, writes a weekly column at www.wowowow.com.
She answers reader questions about divorce, everything from how to deal with betrayal, to surviving the first year, to dating again, to finding a new career. If you have a question for the “Divorce Doctor,” e-mail submit@wowOwow.com. For more advice from Erica, visit www.heshistory.com.
Thebbs B. asks:
Is there anything I could do to legally force my ex to honor the divorce agreement he signed – without having to come up with a large sum of money for an attorney? I do not have enough money to hire an attorney to prove to a judge why I desperately need him to honor what should be a legally binding divorce decree. (The amount of money that he’s NOT sent to me over the years is approximately $66,000.)
Erica Answers: The answer to this question sucks, but in my state, New York, and in many other states there’s nothing you can do without an attorney – unless you represent yourself, which is certainly worth a try. A divorce is a civil action, and like any civil suit, you can’t collect without an attorney. Not paying child support is a different matter. You can go to jail for that, even though few parents actually do. Visit the court clerk and Legal Aid for help and try representing yourself. You may well be able to get an order to collect the money owed. What have you got to lose? There is probably something you could have done at the time of the divorce, though that’s very little comfort now. But other women could learn from your example: Ladies, if your husband is a sneaky sleazebag who’s unlikely to pay alimony or other monthly obligations to you, get as much as possible upfront in the initial settlement and don’t depend on monthly payments. They’re much too hard to collect.
Linda S. asks:
My partner and I separated last year right before my 50th birthday. Two of our three children (ages 22 and 17) live with me. I have a great support system with my friends; however, I am concerned about meeting new people. All of my friends are married or in long-term relationships. I also had to quit school to look for a job due to the recession. My concerns about meeting new people and finding a job are stressful … So is not knowing about the future. How do you deal with uncertainty and meeting new people?
Erica Answers: It’s really rough to face the world alone after being part of a couple for 20-odd years. If you’re referring to meeting people as in “people of the opposite sex,” don’t despair. You’re in a good age group — right in the middle of the baby boom. There are lots of men in their 50s and 60s looking for you. Put on your sexy jeans and test the waters with Internet dating. You won’t necessarily find Mr. Right No. 2 this way, but you will get some dating practice, which you probably need after being married for most of your adult life. As for finding a job, that’s more difficult. Did you finish school? If not, make that a priority even if you have to borrow to do it. In this job market, education is key. As for uncertainty, none of us really know what the future will hold. We pretend that we do but then death, divorce or another tragedy hits and life is up for grabs. If you see uncertainty as an adventure, an opportunity to reinvent your life rather than only a source of stress, meeting new people will become a welcome challenge.
L. A. asks:
How can I be a good friend to someone going through a divorce? I have never been married, therefore, never divorced. I have a friend who went through a divorce a few years ago. She doesn’t seem to be over her ex-husband (who left her after two decades for her best friend). At times, she is so emotionally fragile I worry about her well-being. I don’t think she’d hurt herself but she may pursue a not-so-great relationship with someone for the companionship. She also is still attracted to the same type of man – self-absorbed and emotionally unavailable. I’ve pointed out mutual acquaintances that I think would make good partners, but she’s not really interested. I know I can’t force her to like someone, but she describes someone who appears to be very kind and caring as not her intellectual equal. I want to point out that the last “intellectual equal” she dated treated her terribly.
In short, how do I be the friend she needs? How do I know when to be a shoulder to cry on versus when to be a dose of reality? Or when to tell her that she needs to toughen up? Is this even my role? (She sees several therapists each week.)
Erica Answers: This has got to be one of the most frustrating questions there is. How do you help a friend who won’t help herself? Being walked out on after 20 years for your best friend would make anyone emotionally fragile. I think you need to walk a fine line between taking care of yourself and taking care of her. At this point the friend she probably needs is a fun friend, not a shoulder-to-cry-on friend. She has therapists for that. She needs a buddy to hang out with, go to movies and out to dinner with, have a good time with, to get her mind off her troubles. Reassure her that you care about her but try to avoid the heavy heart-to-heart talks. If she brings up the kind and caring guy who’s not her intellectual equal, feel free to point out that the last “intellectual equal” was a rat, and then drop the subject. Don’t try to talk her into seeing the world your way. Hopefully eventually she will recognize that we can’t change other people, only ourselves. It’s a hard lesson but it sure makes friendship (and life) a lot easier.