Posts Tagged ‘Collaborative Divorce’
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Michel De Groot / New York Times
The American marriage, it seems, is on the rocks. The common line — true or not — is that half of all marriages in this country end in divorce.
So here comes a plucky entrepreneur from, of all places, the Netherlands, with a wild, you’ve-got-to-be-joking plan to profit from the sorry state of so many American unions.
It’s called Divorce Hotel, and the idea is this: Check in on Friday, married. Then, with the help of mediators and independent lawyers, check out on Sunday, divorce papers in hand, all for a flat fee.
And — why not? — toss in some reality TV for good measure.
Unusual as it sounds, the Divorce Hotel concept is up and running in the Netherlands, where its mastermind, Jim Halfens, is helping unhappy marrieds divorce en suite. Seventeen couples have tried it so far. All but one left divorce-ready.
Now Mr. Halfens, 33, wants to take the idea to the United States. He is negotiating with hotels in several cities, including New York and Los Angeles, as well as with law firms and, yes, two television production companies — for a reality show.
American divorce lawyers roll their eyes. Sure, “Divorce Hotel” sounds catchy. But most breakups are too complicated — or, frankly, too acrimonious — to be worked out in a cozy hotel room somewhere.
Robert S. Cohen, the lawyer who helped guide Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Christie Brinkley, Ivana Trump and other A-listers to splitsville, says he wishes he’d thought of the idea. It’s a great gimmick, he says — but as a practical matter, he adds, it probably wouldn’t work for most couples, let alone for the well-heeled types he advises.
It might if a couple were still friends and their financial arrangements were straightforward, he says. But in his view, it’s unlikely to work for complicated cases involving, say, significant property or business holdings, complex stock options or offshore accounts that must be traced or assessed.
“The notion of being able to — at the beginning of a split-up — spend a weekend putting these various pieces together and coming to a solution to them would be virtually impossible,” Mr. Cohen says. “I don’t see how one would do it and come up with a fair result.”
He notes that divorce proceedings are often a highly emotional time for couples. “And the notion they’re now going to spend two days with each other at some fancy hotel seems to me not to be a very likely scenario,” he says. “Most people getting divorced don’t want to see each other again except when they have to.”
Mr. Cohen would be the first to tell you that divorce is big business these days. In the United States alone, estimates of what might be called the divorce industry range from $50 billion to $175 billion a year, depending on what costs are included. (Lawyers, after all, are only the beginning.) More than 1.2 million people in the United States filed for divorce in 2009, the most recent year for which data are available, according to the National Center for State Courts.
Mr. Halfens came up with the idea for Divorce Hotel after watching a college friend go through a painful divorce.
“He was losing weight, he was unable to have fun in life anymore and they were fighting every time you saw them — it was horrible,” Mr. Halfens says of his friend. The divorce negotiations dragged on for five months, he says — not all that long, by American standards.
“I was convinced there has to be another way,” Mr. Halfens says.
So, drawing on a background in marketing, as well as a stint at a law firm, he opened Divorce Hotel. And, by the way, it isn’t just a single hotel. Mr. Halfens has struck agreements with six high-end hotels in the Netherlands, most of which are reluctant to be seen as the Divorce Hotel, or even to divulge that they participate in the program.
Couples stay in separate rooms. A suite is used for mediation talks. Hotel staff members receive special instructions — and are told that these are no ordinary guests. “You don’t want the hotel crew wishing you a very nice weekend and hoping you have lots of fun here,” says Mr. Halfens, who evaluates couples first, to enhance the odds of success.
Divorce Hotel charges a flat fee of $3,500 to $10,000, depending on the complexity of a couple’s financial arrangements. Divorces in the United States tend to cost $5,000 to $20,000, though the cost can soar depending on the assets involved, the case’s complexity and, perhaps most crucially, whether child custody is an issue, according to Randall M. Kessler, chairman of the American Bar Association’s family law section.
Child custody battles and cases involving complex financial arrangements, such as self-owned businesses and stock options, tend to be the costliest, he says, with fees often exceeding $100,000 from each party.
Once the couple check out, they need only show the papers to a judge to have their divorce made final. Of course, marriage laws vary from state to state, which is why Mr. Halfens is in talks with law firms and hotels in different states.
Last September, a 44-year-old computer consultant in the Netherlands checked into a Divorce Hotel with his wife. He spoke on the condition that his full name not be used, to protect their privacy.
Both had been through divorces before. The first time, he says, he lost the equivalent of $30,000 just on lawyer and court costs. The process took a year.
“There was a lot of fighting — not by us, but our lawyers,” he recalls. “Every letter her attorney wrote had to be answered by mine. That financially ruined me.”
He and his second wife wanted to end their seven-year marriage on friendly terms. “We were both divorced before and we both experienced a lot of pain and misery,” he says.
So they opted for the Divorce Hotel — and were thrilled with the results. On his divorce weekend, he says, they went out on the town for dinner and wine. “It wasn’t weird or wrong,” he says, “We felt great — like friends.”
Sometimes a couple just needs to choose different paths for themselves and that’s ok. But too often we see the ugly divorce battles in the news like the current Christie Brinkley and ex-husband Peter Cook case, and we worry that we might face the same lengthy and expensive drawn out court battles. But it doesn’t have to be like this. Many Attorneys, CPA’s, and Mental Health Professionals have adopted the Collaborative Divorce model which can ease the discomfort of divorce and is about working together towards a mutual separation and not about fighting each other to the bitter end. It is also less costly as it requires Read the rest of this entry »
A growing number of local lawyers, mental health experts and financial advisers are training in a practice known as collaborative divorce, a meeting of the minds that aims to transform divorcing couples into partners in parenting.
“It’s a much more civilized process,” said Nancy Harris, co-chairwoman of the Tampa Bay Collaborative Divorce Group, a group of professionals committed to keeping divorce out of court while helping couples keep their cool.
“They usually walk out being able to talk to each other.”
Collaborative divorce brings couples and their attorneys to the negotiating table along with a mental health expert and a financial professional, usually a certified public accountant. Both parties agree upfront to peaceably settle custody and financial issues out of court, with professionals involved to help resolve inevitable conflicts as they arise.
“It’s just question of how you do it. Do you do it collaboratively? Or do you do it with litigation?” said Ky Koch, Harris’ co-chairman of the group.
Michelle and Tom Gesky of Minneapolis shared their collaborative divorce story on NBC’s “Today” show. The couple remain friendly.
“I wanted to keep whatever was left of the relationship as intact as possible,” Tom Gesky said.
The divorce was Michelle Gesky’s second. She said it minimized the effect on her children.
“They don’t feel the repercussions the same way, and I’ve seen the difference in my older children,” she said.
National experts in collaborative law recently trained Bay area professionals at a two-day seminar at the InterContinental Tampa hotel.
One of the trainers, Linda Solomon, a Dallas-based family therapist who has participated in about 200 collaborative cases, said the kinder, gentler approach to divorce is growing in popularity.
“I hope through satisfied clients and word of mouth that the collaborative approach to divorce is going to be the norm,” Solomon said.
Children benefit most from settling out of court, said family therapist Sharon Miller of Tampa.
“The court process is very, very hard on families,” said Miller, who has been involved in about 10 local collaborative divorce cases.
Tampa CPA Mike Lewis said he has consulted in about 20 local collaborative cases, adding that financial issues are often the toughest to resolve.
“Their needs are reviewed, and we can put out different options for a possible settlement,” Lewis said.
Koch said collaborative divorce is typically less expensive than traditional divorce because it avoids court time and costs. But the biggest benefit, he said, has nothing to do with money.
“One of the things I tell clients is that the advantage of a collaborative divorce is that you will be able to sit in a pew next to your spouse at your daughter’s wedding,” Koch said. “In litigated cases, that doesn’t happen very often.”