Friday, November 13, 2009

Get Mom to a Lawyer!

(NOTE: Jim's blog is now devoted to answering relationship questions submitted by readers. Please send any questions you may have to

DEAR JIM: My mother is a widow in her early 70's. Dad died five years ago and, fortunately, left her in good shape financially. But recently, she's taken up with a guy in his 60's who my sister and I feel is a slippery character. He's vague about his background. He's supposedly a "long-time widower", with kids "out of state", and lives off his "investments", but he never says what those investments are or how he made his money in the first place. Google searches on him turn up next to nothing. My mother told us that they're planning to get married on Valentine's Day, and will be going on a Caribbean cruise for their honeymoon. Mom has already put a deposit down on the cruise using her credit card---his funds are supposedly "tied up." When we try to talk sense to her, she gets angry with us, and tells us we don't know what it's like to be lonely (my sister and I are both married). Is there anything we can do legally to keep my mother from making a big mistake? ("Sally" in Dallas)

DEAR SALLY: I agree with you this all smells fishy, but I doubt that a court would intervene at this point. Although every state has guardianship and "conservatorship" laws that can, in extreme cases, transfer some or all of a person's decision-making powers to a relative or other person, there has to be a clear-cut case of incapacity proven. Bad judgment isn't enough. Unless it's combined with seriously-diminished physical and/or mental capacity---which, at the very least, would require a doctor's written opinion---courts will usually stay away from cases like this.

However, that doesn't mean a lawyer can't help you and your mother. In fact, I strongly recommend that she immediately consult a lawyer who specializes in domestic relations law. The reason is that, assuming you can't persuade your mother not to go ahead with the wedding, she absolutely needs a pre-nuptial agreement.

In a properly-drafted "pre-nup", both parties would fully disclose their respective finances and personal information prior to the wedding. The lawyer your mother hires would represent only her. If the boyfriend wants to be represented by a lawyer, he'd have to get his own (and some states require both parties to a pre-nup to have separate representation). Your mother's lawyer's job would be to make sure that her boyfriend is coming clean about his income, assets, debts, marital history, and all other relevant facts. An experienced lawyer could quickly tell if someone is being evasive or dishonest, and he would advise your mother accordingly.

A domestic relations lawyer would probably also have access to investigative tools that go beyond simple google searches. He might be able to uncover information about the boyfriend that could convince your mother to break off the relationship without even getting to the pre-nup stage.

I know your mother seems to be headstrong about this, but it's quite possible that she might listen to an "outside" professional more readily than to you and your sister. A lot of older people are resentful of what they see as power plays by their children. They resist giving up authority of any kind to their children, and will do almost anything---including making bad decisions---to assert their independence. A lawyer wouldn't normally present the same kind of threat to your mother.

I hope this helps, Sally. Please let me know what happens.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Going Broke in the Dating World

(NOTE: Jim's blog is now devoted to answering relationship questions submitted by readers. Please send any questions you may have to

DEAR JIM: I'm 46 years old and have been divorced a little over a year. I'm paying $950 a month in child support, and I'm still paying half the mortgage on the house my ex-wife and kids live in, plus the rent on my own apartment. I'm fortunate to have a decent job, but I have very little discretionary income at this point. I've met a few women through an online dating site, but every date I've gone on has been expensive and has lead to nothing. I hate to look cheap, but I can't afford to drop a hundred dollars or more on a first date with someone I may never see again. Is it OK to go Dutch on a date, or would it be the kiss of death to suggest it? ("Ron" in Connecticut)

DEAR RON: Before I answer your question, let me suggest an alternative. You don't have to spend a hundred dollars on a first date, regardless of who pays. In fact, even aside from the money involved, it's crazy to go to dinner at a nice restaurant with someone you barely know. If the chemistry isn't there, you'll both realize it before you've finished your first drink, and for the next hour or two you'll be making uncomfortable small talk while at the same time running up a substantial bill.

First dates should be in places that are inexpensive and where there is no automatic expectation of a lengthy time commitment. A coffee shop is an ideal venue for first dates; you'd have to buy a lot of lattes and pastries to drop $20 or $25, and you can make a graceful exit after thirty minutes if things aren't going well. On the other hand, if things are going well, you can usually linger as long as you'd like, or just leave together and take a nice stroll.

Another reason not to spend big bucks on first dates is that the woman may feel you're trying to buy her. This is one of those issues that cause a great deal of mutual misunderstanding and mutual resentment. The man feels that the woman is happy to let him lavish his money on her, and the woman feels that the guy is acting like he owns her. It's a common problem in the dating world.

Getting back to your question about going Dutch, I personally don't like the idea, unless the woman insists on it (there's nothing to be gained in arguing with a woman). If you're keeping your costs to a minimum and not obviously hinting at a "quid pro quo", you're more likely to come across as a man of sophistication if you pick up the tab. I may be old-fashioned in this regard, but I think that, when it comes to women, a little treat is never a bad idea. But keep the treats little, especially on first dates. You don't want to miss a child support payment because of too many fancy restaurant meals.

Good luck, Ron, and let me know how your next date goes.