Hey, fancy a luxury weekend away? Spa treatment, four course gourmet meal with a lovely city to explore – how about the bonus that at the end of the weekend you’ll be divorced? This is not a sensationalist story but something that is actually possible. A hotel in York followed in the footsteps of others in Europe and the United States and has become the first in England to offer a ‘divorce weekender’.
The divorce weekender
Aimed at couples who are preparing to split up but who are able to still talk to each other in a sensible and constructive way, the weekend promises a space to agree the issues in respect of their divorce, with mediators on hand if required. You cannot, of course get divorced in 48 hours but, the package will provide the appropriate papers to file with the Court and advice as to how to proceed – a process which, in due course, will include the filing of a Consent Order reflecting the settlement the couples comes to over the weekend.
These costs, between £6,000 and £10,000 per couple, are – so the company concerned claims cheaper than using lawyers and getting a divorce through the Courts. The truth however is that while this separation sojourn may be cheaper than a contested court battle, claims that it is actually cheaper than using lawyers in a Collaborative or mediated process are, in my opinion, questionable.
Opening up channels of communication
Despite the sensationalism, the idea behind the ‘divorce hotel’ – namely getting couples to talk to each other and resolve their differences face to face – is one that should be encouraged. Cases are rarely settled unless people are prepared to do this and this package appears to offer a luxury weekend as an incentive for people to do this.
Seeking professional advice
While a mediator will be on hand to help guide couples and offer assistance, as a lawyer with over 30 years’ experience, my concern is that there is a danger this backing lacks sufficient substance to handle the technical nuances of separation.
Ultimately, there are issues that are very complex that do need legal advice and assistance. Pensions immediately spring to mind, and businesses, share options and partnerships are all other areas that can become very complicated and have serious implications depending on how they are resolved.
The last thing anyone wants is to come to an agreement, only to find out that as a result of this you are suddenly liable for, say tax that had not been envisaged or that the settlement that you thought you had come to could either not be implemented or a Court refuse to enforce. It’s here that experience legal backing is essential.
A constructive approach
So, what if you want to avoid a Court battle, with the costs and potential acrimony which goes with it? Well here, there are two main options – mediation or collaborative family law.
These are generally favourable for separating couples looking to deal with matters in a sensible and constructive fashion, often because they have accepted that their relationship has broken down or –perhaps more importantly – when children are involved and future communication important.
Mediation involves the separating coupe sitting down with a mediator to reach an amicable solution. Outside the ‘divorce hotel’ it is normally backed up by separate, independent legal advice for both parties, meaning that they understand the implications of the discussions they are having and the potential entitlements that they each might have. A good mediator will always stop a mediation if they feels one of the parties is compromising too much with a warning that that party should go and seek legal advice before the next session – full guidance is key.
independent legal advice for both parties, means that they understand the implications of the discussions they are having and the potential entitlements that they each might have
Alternatively, Collaborative family law can offer a solution and this approach actually has many of the same aims the divorce hotel scenario. Under Collaborative law, the parties sign a formal agreement not to litigate and commit to finding solutions to their problems in a series of meetings with their respective lawyers around the table. The lawyers ensure that the negotiations are kept on track and are there to secure the best outcome for that family.
Under Collaborative law, both parties commit to finding solutions to their problems in a series of meetings with their respective lawyers
Again, there is an incentive for the parties to continue in the process in that if the negotiations break down then the clients will have to start again with new lawyers and the lawyers lose their clients. There is therefore real reason to commit and ensure that there is a successful outcome.
My own experience in Collaboration is that the vast majority of cases achieve a positive result and that the parties remain on good terms. What is more, in nearly all of my Collaborative cases the costs have been somewhat less than a luxury weekend in the divorce hotel!
Stephen Root is a specialist family lawyer within Berwins' industry ranked family law team.