The American press this week has picked up an online article about a new legal service being provided in Holland known as “Divorce Hotel”.
The company is run by a former market researcher and claims to specialise in offering a quick, lower cost alternative to divorce. Couples undergo extensive interviews beforehand, commit to the mediation process, prepare “homework” in advance and then enjoy a three day stay at a luxury hotel where they are assisted by mediators, notaries and even psychologists to resolve the issues arising out of their separation. The cost appears to be in the region of £2,000.
Both in terms of timescale and cost, this option is clearly appealing.
In Scots Law, a range of alternative forms of dispute resolution in family law matters are now established. Separating spouses can engage in the mediation process (resolution via an independent solicitor or trained volunteer) or alternatively can seek to resolve matters utilising the collaboration process (co-operation via a series of four-way meetings where couples are represented by solicitors trained in collaborative law who commit not to litigate and have the assistance of third parties as required). Arbitration is also an option. In many cases, these can be effective and highly desirable methods whereby couples can reach agreement on the financial matters arising from their separation and/or residence/contact issues in relation to children of the relationship.
The main differences between these methods and “Divorce Hotel” are venue (such meetings usually take place in a fairly bland, sterile environment) and time scale (there are usually a series of discussions over several weeks, even months).
What is clear in Scots Law, however, is that solicitors’ involvement in the process cannot be dispensed with entirely. Firstly, whatever the parties agree, via whatever process, must be given legal effect, usually by the drafting, signing and registering of a legally binding contract between the parties (known as a minute of agreement) and secondly, because divorce in Scotland can only be granted by the courts, an application to the Sheriff Court (or Court of Session) is necessary.
It may be that the small print for checking into “Divorce Hotel” in Holland addresses these issues but the suspicion is that “Divorce Hotel” does not quite do what it says on the tin. That said, it is certainly a novel and interesting option which seeks to bring couples together in a neutral venue with the assistance of third parties to encourage dialogue and resolution of what are often difficult issues.