June 1, 2012

Counting the cost of divorce in ‘Heartbreak Hotel’

It was the one and only Elvis Presley who sang most memorably about Heartbreak Hotel, pointing out rather ominously that “although it’s always crowded, you still can find some room”.

Heartbreak Hotel was the best selling single in 1956 and Elvis’ first million-seller and, sadly, his words turned out to be somewhat prophetic. It was still over a decade before the Divorce Reform Act of 1969 which would revolutionise the process of managing relationship breakdown, and herald a seemingly irreversible upwards shift in divorce rates over the next three decades.

I wonder, if Elvis were still alive (notwithstanding the claims that he is, and working in a chip shop), what would he make of the very modern European concept of a two-day Divorce Hotel service, designed to help couples finalise their divorce in a 5-star, comfortable, third party environment?

That is the latest proposal from a Dutch entrepreneur who has launched the service on his own turf and seems confident that it will transfer to other countries including the USA, Germany and the UK.

Really? In principle it’s an admirable idea as described: having the two parties, lawyers, and mediators all in the same hotel for a weekend with the aim of speeding up a process which can be ‘drawn out for weeks or months if pursued through the courts’.

Ah, sounds familiar. That, then, would be the process of mediation long recognised by the courts in England and Wales and supported by trained and qualified mediators across the country. No need for the expense of a fancy hotel which may in fact serve only to pile further financial pressure on the couple. The most empathetic family lawyers already provide couples with non-intrusive and very private locations in which to pursue any course of mediation or collaborative law.

The Netherlands-based firm aims to talk couples through alimony, splitting assets, visitation rights for children and any other outstanding marital issues – shoe-horning them into finalising their divorce in a tight timescale.

What is the point of difference from the efforts made by our finest family lawyers day after day? Quite simply, a mediator will understand the emotional difficulties and would rarely expect such stressful and complicated issues to be solved in a weekend away. This could quite easily be a case of “decide in haste and repent at leisure!”

So, in Elvis’ words again: if your baby leaves you, and you got a tale to tell, there’s no need to take a walk down lonely street to heartbreak hotel. Just pick up the phone to your family lawyer of choice who will work with you as part of a team to reach a solution at your own pace.

By Peter Jones, partner