America’s First DivorceHotel Opens In Saratoga Springs
By Arthur Gonick
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Divorce is a fact of life in modern society. In many cases the act of a couple uncoupling is thought to be, by its nature, adversarial, messy and expensive.
Yet, for some time now a movement has existed in which mediation – finding shared goals and common ground between couples whose life circumstances have caused them to grow apart, has taken a larger role in proceedings.
This past Wednesday, September 24, a beachhead for a new school of that thought arrived on America’s shores. The historic Gideon Putnam Hotel inside the Spa State Park is now the first U.S. site where some progressive negotiating techniques are being brought to bear to the cause of civilized separation.
Behold, America’s first DivorceHotel. Established in the Netherlands in 2011 (ironically on Valentine’s Day) by Jim Halfens, it has spread to six sites on the European continent and became the subject of international publicity, culminating in becoming the subject of a highly rated prime time reality series on Netherland’s RTL Network.
At the center of the effort to bring the DivorceHotel concept to America is Saratoga Springs native / resident Michele M. Martin. Ms. Martin is a divorce mediator and certified divorce financial analyst for her own firm Divorce Agree (see DivorceAgree.com). She has been named the U.S. Manager for DivorceHotel, while continuing her local practice.
Ms. Martin took time to juggle the arrival of the first couple whose divorce would be mediated in a period of three days (they arrived from the Denver, Colorado area on Wednesday and had a finished agreement in hand on the day this issue is published), as well as being shadowed by cameras from ABC News programs Nightline and Good Morning America (look for segments to air on each next week) to discuss the evolution of her commitment to mediation and the DivorceHotel concept.
“I’m living proof that mediation works,” she said, referring to her own amicable divorce about 10 years ago. “I get together with my ex, his new wife and our children for meals and the like. It’s not an unusual occurrence.”
Ms. Martin had a career as a general financial analyst at that time. Two years ago, she modified her orientation to divorce mediation and related financial planning. About that time, an article in the Wall Street Journal about DivorceHotel peaked her interest.
“I got on the phone, literally with the article in my hand” she said, “and asked Jim Halfens ‘How do we bring this here?’” At the time, the Netherlands-based firm was not ready to expand, but Michele stayed in touch – all the time becoming a mini-chamber of commerce – touting the virtues of Saratoga Springs as a perfect site for an American DivorceHotel.
“It’s important that people get away, to a relaxed setting, so they can focus on their mission.” She said. “The Gideon Putnam is the perfect locale for this. They were open and receptive to the idea. They said that they welcome all kinds of groups and this was just another one.” The strategic location of Saratoga Springs in the center of several northeast cities made it ideal as well.
The process itself is something that naturally draws a lot of curiosity. For a fee of around $5,000 per couple (plus airfare and eventual filing fees) the two parties stay in separate rooms during their stay. While there are some joint activities and meals planned as part of the stay (the Denver couple are road bike enthusiasts and will do that together), it’s mostly some long days of mediating with Ms. Martin, as well as solitary time to study preliminary agreements, etc.
At the end of the process, the former couple will emerge with a signed separation agreement, which then can be filed officially in their state of residence.
Obviously, this sort of thing is not relevant for couples that are coming to the end of their marriage acrimoniously.
Before arriving at the DivorceHotel, or even to a final mediation session, a lot of prep work and screening has to be done by Michele Martin and her colleagues. The couple from Denver has four children, therefore they have many issues related to them, as well as general financial ones to settle.
So a commitment is essential. The parties involved have to believe that they will be better off in the end.
In that connection, it is hard not to be impressed with the enthusiasm and drive that Ms. Martin brings to her profession.
“I always say: smart people mediate.” She said.
The world is about to see if the U.S. is ready for DivorceHotel. And it’s happening right here.
For more information, visit DivorceAgree.com