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Divorce Mediation News

Divorce Hotel takes up residence at Gideon Putnam

Mediated split concept got start in the Netherlands

Originally appeared Friday, September 5, 2014 in The Daily Gazette

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Think of Divorce Hotel as a last vacation for a doomed marriage.

For $7,500 to $12,000, the private service taking up residence at the Gideon Putnam Resort and Spa lets parting couples kick back and relax; take in the sights of Saratoga Springs; visit the city’s mineral baths; even catch a concert at Saratoga Performing Art Center. And at the end of the weekend, they’ll have an agreement hammered out that will let them part ways amicably.

One weekend, no muss, no fuss. Everything is wrapped up in a neat agreement that goes to the lawyers and then a judge for a final stamp of approval, said Michele Martin, the Malta mediator who was instrumental in bringing the Dutch enterprise to the United States.

“They can come to great agreements and we really can cover everything,” she said Thursday. “It makes them focus and get this done.”

Founded by Jim Halfens in the Netherlands, Divorce Hotel has mediators that provide services across western Europe and even in Aruba, according to the company’s website. The new venture expected to launch this fall in Saratoga Springs materialized after Martin contacted the company and suggested the city as an ideal location.

“I feel like it’s an idea whose time has come,” she said.

The company contacted the Gideon — a state-owned facility operated in the Saratoga Spa State Park by Delaware North — and asked to book space for the mediation sessions. Rob Sgarlata, director of sales and marketing, said Divorce Hotel will be no different from any other group reserving the hotel’s amenities, which include 124 rooms, 12,000 square feet of function space and a 5,200-square-foot ballroom.

“The idea being that they want to bring them to a place where they can rejuvenate on a mental, physical spiritual level,” he said, “and that’s what we provide.”

Understandably, the Divorce Hotel sessions will need to be isolated in a different area of the facility from one of its other prevalent clients: Couples celebrating their nuptials. Sgarlata said attention will be given to keep the divorcees in a different wing of the facility from any sort of wedding service that happens to coincide with the mediation.

“I wouldn’t be putting them near where they’re cutting the cake,” he said.

Martin, who has mediated 85 breakups and is a certified divorce financial analyst, said the service offers clients a stress-free way to end their marriage so they can maintain an amicable relationship afterward. Couples first go through a screening process to ensure their divorces aren’t complicated by other circumstances, such as custody battles or protection orders, and then go through paperwork to set the stage for the weekend sessions at the Gideon.

“The truth is we do a lot of work ahead of time before the couple gets there,” she said.

Though most divorces will be covered by the flat rate, Martin said some will cost a bit more depending on the season. For instance, if a couple wants to finalize their divorce during the thoroughbred meet at Saratoga Race Course, they could face extra fees.

“If a couple decided they want to mediate in the morning and go to the track in the afternoon, the price is going to be higher,” she said.

Also, Divorce Hotel isn’t for couples thinking of rekindling their relationship. Martin said the business aspect of the service is cut and dried.

“It’s to roll up your sleeves and get the work done in an amicable way,” she said.

A second mistake?

Of course, there are some who don’t believe the hassle-free vacationlike divorce packages will work as touted. Eric Tepper, a Glenville attorney and officer of the New York State Bar Association’s Family Law Section, said couples spend years building their lives together, so the notion of separating them in a weekend sounds a bit short-sighted.

“People rush into marriages very often,” he said. “You don’t want to make that mistake twice. You don’t want to rush into a divorce. You want to be sure the I’s are dotted and the T’s are crossed.”

Mario Cometti, an Albany-area attorney specializing in matrimonial law, agreed. He said cramming mediation into one weekend might even be more difficult amid distractions like mineral baths, track visits and concerts.

“Marriage isn’t like jumping in a pool and then getting out of the pool,” he said. “It is hard to imagine enough time and information has been exchanged and sufficiently combed through to expect a divorce to occur over the course of a weekend.”

Martin acknowledges Divorce Hotel isn’t for all couples. But for some who are determined to split, she said the service will help set them on a path toward an amicable post-marriage relationship and even perhaps a spot on reality television.

In October 2012, Fox Broadcasting ordered a pilot of “Divorce Hotel” from A. Smith & Co., which also produces Gordon Ramsay’s “Hell’s Kitchen” and “The Choice,” a reality-based dating program. Base Productions, which is working with the company, secured the television rights from Halfens in 2011.

“It’s a possibility,” Martin said of the reality show.