Roger writing the LAWmag
22
Jul 2012

Divorce Hotel: Going Dutch on Divorce

To too many lawyers, this will be just another kooky Dutch legal idea, up there with red light prostitution districts, legalized marijuana and state-authorized euthanasia.

But like all avant garde or risqué Dutch law ideas, they are based on the reality that necessity is the mother of invention.

Just ask Jim Halfens, the 34-year-old businessman and the self-styled general manager of the virtual establishment with the very attractive and certainly catchy name: Divorce Hotel.

And yes, it's a trademark.

But this is no movie starring Jodie Foster with some kid running around in a bear outfit.

Although like any good entrepreneur who has ever set foot in America, Helfens is looking for a Hollywood reality TV deal, the concept of Divorce Hotel is dead serious.

The brochure explains the product. First of all, there is no actual hotel. Divorce Hotel is a virtual concept.

Divorce Hotel logoBoth members of a divorcing couple fly to and check into a hotel in the Netherlands. There are six hotels to choose from including the Carlton Ambassador Hotel in Hague, Netherlands. There, an itinerary is ready for private meetings with mediators, lawyers and psychologists.

Husband and wife, or husband and husband or wife and wife in those jurisdictions which have legalized gay marriages, or husband, wife and wife and wife for polygamists, all check-in still married on a Friday, but (presumably) in separate rooms.

There is a third room which is booked and which is reserved for the mediation headquarters.

Like any lawyer with alternative dispute resolution experience would expect, the mediator starts out in the mediation headquarters room and goes back and forth between the divorcing individuals and tries to broker a deal. If the mediator thinks it would be helpful, he may bring the parties together in the mediation headquarters. An independent lawyer is also present to advise the client on the law.

Halpern got this all of himself and turned it into a business which is already in operation in the Netherlands. Divorce Hotel charges a flat fee which is between $3,500-$10,000 American depending on the number of issues which need to be resolved. Complex property disentanglement or specially child custody issues add to the price tag.

The parties go Dutch on the fee.

And here's the Disney moment: the marketing jingle is that you check in on Friday and you check out on Sunday with a fully negotiated separation agreement ready to be presented to a local judge and from which, presto! - you would also be divorced.

hotel meeting room listSimple as a Las Vegas wedding.

Essentially, Divorce Hotel offers the promise of a quick and thorough resolution of a potentially very expensive and always emotional marital separation, at very low cost.

Like any good idea, success takes time. According to the New York Times, of 17 couples that signed up for Divorce Hotel as of May, 2012, only one managed to negotiate a comprehensive separation agreement.

Still, Halfens is hard at work expanding his business to the United States.

If you sit down with a family law lawyer (and expect raised eyebrows at this proposal), the first concern would be the feasibility of negotiating complex legal issues at a fast-food, McDivorce outlet. The biggest concern will probably be discovery.

But even McDivorce, aka Divorce Hotel can cover that by encouraging couples not to take up the reservation until they have satisfied themselves that they are fully aware of the property or employment situation of the other.

Divorce is big business. Lawyers are jealous of their source of income and that jealousy is very difficult to discern because it is almost always presented as if the proposed innovation would result in trauma to the justice system, an injustice. Needless to say, the few lawyers who have even stooped so low as to comment, are suggesting that it has no merit, that it would result in unfair results, and that it ignores the emotional element of a marital separation.

The fledging Divorce Hotel concept is still very much a creature of the Netherlands. On the website for example, almost all of the material is available only in the Dutch language.

And there is lots not to like about Divorce Hotel especially the over-the-top marketing. The meta tag desciption at the website:

Divorcehotel.com: The Authority in the Field of Divorce.

The other problem with checking into a hotel for divorce is that the chances are good you are going to run into a wedding at the same time.

Awkward.

But all good ideas have small beginnings and may require a tweak to code here, a change to the business plan there. Just ask Apple or Microsoft.

Not to say that Divorce Hotel shares will one day be at $600 on the stock exchange but there are many aspects of this business plan to like and even to emulate within the very real and very hard environment of divorce law.

And if there is one area of the law desperately in need of innovation and creativity, it is family law. There are so many technical and legal culture aspects of divorce and family law which fosters the legacy bitterness a long and drawn-out divorce causes - due diligence, due process, independent legal advice, and the list goes on and on.

Divorce Hotel bangs on a door which seems closed to outside-the-box innovation in spite of the promise of a quick yet fair resolution.

But wait!

Is that a creak?

Yes, Virginia, the concept of making an all-out effort at divorce mediation, before engaging divorce litigation, is slowly but far too tentatively being explored by justice system players. In one North American jurisdiction, for example, new changes being proposed to the law will require lawyers to encourage their clients to first consider mediation (see Family Law Tsunami to Hit British Columbia).

Divorce mediation is the very core legal concept of Divorce Hotel, albeit in a 5-Star environment.

Innovation in family law, especially if drawn on Dutch creativity, should be welcomed.

Putting two divorcing people in a hotel and throwing out the key until they come to a fair resolution.

Has anyone thought of that?

Divorce 'R Us?

REFERENCES:

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