Whether you watch The Simpsons regularly or, like me you have missed a few, it’s easy to jump back into it and when I heard that Season 27 started off with Marge and Homer in a “trial separation,” I set my PVR. Spoiler alert! Homer falls asleep during couples’ counselling with Marge and dreams that they separate. The episode chronicles some of Homer’s highs and lows that accompany the life-altering event of a separation.
Have to Order New Cheques!
Homer does not adjust so well initially and thinks that Marge will take him back until he calls the home number and discovers that she has referred to her maiden name on the family voicemail. At this point Homer realizes that there will be a lot to do and he will even have to order new cheques! This is reflective of the reality that there is a lot to do when couples separate and they may shift into having a more business-like relationship as they start the process of separating financially.
Mediators can help provide you with the information you need to become financially separate, as well as when you may need other professionals to provide legal advice or fully understand the tax implications of a possible agreement. Before starting the mediation process you could start an inventory of all separately and jointly-owned assets (e.g., cash, investments, vehicles, real estate) and a list all your outstanding debt (e.g., credit cards, loans, mortgages). During the mediation process you will be asked to provide documentation to support decisions around valuing your assets and debt, keep in mind that the date of valuation will be unique for each couple and something you agree on in mediation. You may also want to start thinking about your monthly and annual expense budget (e.g., food, medical care, housing, clothes).
Skype You at Christmas!
Later on in the episode both Marge and Homer are dating new partners. Lisa, (Marge and Homer’s daughter), had to cut a conversation with her dad short, saying she would “skype [him] at Christmas” because she had to “go pony shopping” with Marge’s new partner. While comical for the show, this is not typical of parenting time over Christmas that couples living in the same city typically land on in mediation.
Mediators recognize that every family is unique and will support both spouses to establish a parenting schedule that is in the best interest of the children and also works for both parents. I ask people to bring an open mind, a willingness to discuss the issues and to listen to the perspective of the other person with the intention of negotiating a resolution. It can also be helpful for parents to think 20 years into their children’s future and about the kind of memories and childhood experiences they want them to have. Your answers will impact the kind of co-parenting relationship you will want to establish with the other parent and will also impact the parenting arrangements you make in mediation.
Family mediation can help you and your ex-spouse navigate the process of separation and all of the decisions that you will need to agree on:
- where your children will live or how will parents share parenting time,
- how decisions will be made for the children,
- who will pay child support and what are special and extraordinary expenses,
- what do you own as a couple and what do you owe together and how this could be shared; and
- if both parties agree that spousal support is an issue then what amount of spousal support will be paid and for how long.
Mediation can offer you an unbundled approach so that families can get support on just a few issues if that is what they need, or cover a comprehensive list of topics. It is important to underscore that mediators do not provide advice on what each spouse should do but rather help explore options, provide information and resources so that the parties themselves can make informed decisions. The families control the outcome, not the mediator.
For those of you going through a separation either now or in the past you may have shared the same sentiment that it felt like a bad dream at times, but were not as lucky as Homer to wake up to the status quo. Aside from 30 minutes of entertainment this episode highlights that separation is common and takes work, but doesn’t have to be all bad – especially if you seek out support during this transition.
Guest blogger Amy Robertson is a Family Roster mediator and management consultant in Victoria, BC and has also been the Chairperson of a Federal Administrative Tribunal. Amy keeps an active mediation and consultation practice at victoriamediation.com.