EP 62: Only two days to get divorced in a luxury hotel? Interview with Michele Martin, Mediator at Divorce Hotel

Only two days to get divorced in a luxury hotel? Interview with Michele Martin, Mediator at Divorce Hotel

"Check in married and leave divorced." - Michele Martin of Divorce Hotel

In Episode 62, you’re going to hear about Divorce Hotel, an innovative way to get divorced over a weekend in a luxury hotel. Michele Martin is a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst and Mediator, and she’s going to tell you all about this unique process that may be right for you.

For more information about Divorce Hotel, listen to this episode and check out the following:

Website: Divorcehotel.com

Nightline Special: http://abcnews.go.com/Nightline/video/inside-ny-hotel-couples-check-married-check-divorced-25935029

NYPost Article: http://nypost.com/2015/02/10/i-checked-into-the-divorce-hotel-to-check-out-of-my-marriage/

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Shawn: Today we have Michele Martin. She is a fellow Certified Divorce Financial Analyst, and mediator at the Divorce Hotel. Michele, welcome to the show.

Michele: Great Shawn, thanks. Thanks, for having me.

Shawn: So let's start. Tell us what the Divorce Hotel is.

Michele: Sure. So the Divorce Hotel. Essentially you check into a luxury hotel married. You mediate your divorce over the course of a few days, and by the time you check out you have a fully executed, legally binding divorce agreement all completed.

Shawn: You said it's a luxury hotel. So where is this place?

Michele: Yes. So our first location in the United States is in Saratoga Springs, New York, which is upstate New York. You may have heard of it, it's the home of the famous race track, in a beautiful hotel called the Gideon Putnam Hotel. It's this gorgeous, historic hotel on beautiful grounds in a state park. It's really quite lovely. It's about three hours north of New York City, three hours from Boston. Very convenient for couples in urban areas. The reason we want it away from urban areas, and we want it to be a getaway, as opposed to being in the middle of New York City, is we want couples to be there, to be focused. To be away from their families, and friends, and outside influences, and to really focus on what needs to be done over that weekend.

Shawn: Is that the only location in the United States?

Michele: So far it's our only location. But we are planning a new location in California this fall. So look for that in October, it will be in the LA area, so that's pretty exciting. Our hope is to have them in different regions throughout the country.

Shawn: So where did this concept start? The Divorce Hotel. Check in married, and leave divorced.

Michele: Right. So it started in the Netherlands in 2011. The founder of the company, Jim Halfens, came up with the idea, and launched it in Europe. It was very successful, and proved to be a really great concept. When I heard about it, back in 2011 I read an article in The Wall Street Journal, and I said oh my god, this is something that has to be here in the US. So I called him, and they weren't quite ready for the US. But when they were they contacted me, and we launched in 2014, and it has been very successful.

Shawn: So why don't you tell us your story with divorce, and how you got involved, and how you ended up here.

Michele: Sure. I was getting divorced about 12 years ago. I told my mother, who is a court reporter, that we were getting divorced. She had, as a court reporter, sat in on so many divorce cases, thousands of them. She just begged us to mediate. She said please mediate your divorce, otherwise it will be very expensive, the lawyers might stir things up, it's going to be a terribly long, inefficient process, please mediate. It was really the best advice I've ever gotten, so we did that. We had a really great outcome. We were able to maintain a great relationship, and 12 years later we're still co-parenting our son very successfully. That experience really motivated me, or inspired me, to get into this work. I was a financial advisor, I actually still am a financial advisor. It inspired me to become a CDFA like you, Certified Divorce Financial Analyst, and then actually become a full time mediator, and I just loved the work.

Shawn: So I'm thinking about this idea. I like the concept of going, and staying in a luxury hotel for a weekend, and being divorced by the end of the weekend. How do I know if it's right for me, and it might work with my spouse?

Michele: Essentially if your divorce can be mediated then it would work at Divorce Hotel. So how do I know if my divorce can be mediated? Does it mean I have to be one of those rare couples who just love each other so much, and they're so wonderful, but they just know things are bad, and they're just happy? The answer is no, you don't have to be one of those rare couples. You just have to know that you're going to be better off having mediated your divorce, having created your own agreement, which is what mediation is. I always say smart couples mediate. You have to be smart enough to know that working together you're going to come up with a better solution. You have to be smart enough to know that if you go down the path of two lawyers fighting it out it's going to take a really long time, it's going to be very expensive, and there's the possibility that they'll stir the pot, and there will be a lot of animosity. So in that case you just have to be smart.

Another case where it might be more difficult would be if you had a really complex business that was involved, and we needed valuations. That might not work as well for Divorce Hotel. But that doesn't necessarily mean that not companies owning businesses, it wouldn't work. We do a lot of legwork up front to make sure that by the time the couple gets to the hotel we have everything we need, whether it be valuations of businesses, or appraisals on properties, or pension valuations. We get that work done up front, we do it remotely. So that we're really confident by the time you get to the hotel by the end of the weekend we're going to be able to do everything we need to do to get to the right agreement.

Shawn: That's a great segue. So let's say I'm sold, and I think this is a process that I want to go through. How does it work from the initial contact, to actually getting through the weekend?

Michele: A couple will reach out to me. A lot of the initial contact is a discussion. I ask them to tell me a bit about their situation, a bit about their kids, and their family, and where they are in the process, which is a very similar screening process that I would do for my private divorce mediation practice. Just getting an idea of the attitude, and if they tell me if they have a big business or not. You can really get a feel for whether it might work even just from that initial conversation.

From there I send the couple our getting started worksheets, which is tell me more information about yourself; your businesses, your income, your children, your assets, your pensions. Kind of like a financial net worth statement, but not as daunting as the ones you would get from a lawyer. But just tell me what you guys agree on, what you think you might agree on. Both spouses sign off on that paperwork to make sure yes, we both agree that this is everything that we have, and this all makes sense. So once the couple gets that back to me I again have a more in depth conference call with each of them to really understand all of the issues, and understand, like I said, what we need to get done. Do they need to get an appraisal, do they need to get a valuation, I walk them through ordering those things.

At that point that's when we schedule their weekend at the hotel. By then I have a really good idea of how it's going to work, how much time they might need at the hotel. The average stay is just two days, but some people might need three days. I also want them to have some time to relax. To have them come all the way to Saratoga, and just work the entire time is not the entire point of it. We want people to have time to relax, to take a break. There's a beautiful spa, we have a beautiful city, we want them to go out to dinner a little bit. But having said that, it's not a vacation. I mean we definitely roll up our sleeves, and do the work that needs to be done.

I was just going to say the process is really great for people who are two working spouses who are busy, and can't ever seem to make appointments with mediators, or can't ever seem to make the time for this, or their kids, or they're always being pulled in a bunch of different directions. We've had people who have been like, we've wanted to do this for a while, we just haven't made the time. Well you're making the time. You're away from all distractions, and you're there, and that's why you're there, to work out this divorce agreement.

Shawn: I think that makes plenty of sense. When you're isolated, and you have to focus on the task at hand it's one of the best ways to be productive, and just get it done in the course of the weekend. It also sounds like you do a lot of work up front to make sure that when the time comes to schedule the weekend that the time is used most efficiently and productively as possible, and you can actually live up to the promise of being divorced by the end of those two or three days.

Michele: It's important to us that this process works, and so our success rate in the US is 100 percent. In Europe, where they've done well over 100 Divorce Hotel cases, all but one was successful, and I'm not really sure of the reason behind that. I think there were extenuating circumstances behind that one that didn't work. But we want you to succeed, so we're not going to let you book until we're pretty confident that's going to happen. So it's by design that we're going to make sure that you're successful, and you leave with a great outcome.

Shawn: That's awesome. It sounds like it's a great process for couples thinking about it. Now how much does it cost in total?

Michele: Sure. The range is between about $8,000 and $12,000. The variation really depends on what time of year you come to the hotel. So if you want to come in the summer the hotel rates are much higher, so that influences that, and maybe the valuations and appraisals would boost you above the 8,000 mark. But I will say most of them have been, even with some of those factors, have been closer to the $8,000 mark. So it does include consultations with two lawyers, one for each of the couples, so that they don't feel like they made this decision without any legal counseling at all. It includes some meals, not all of the meals. It includes the room where we mediate, and really $8,000 for that mediated agreement is almost less than one retainer for an attorney in some cities. So it really makes so much sense. It's very cost effective, even with factoring in the cost of the hotel.

Shawn: Unquestionably. I think the entry-level price for divorce is usually over $10,000, as you said. So I think that's definitely a very cost effective solution, and probably a lot more fun than the traditional process as well.

Michele: It can be. I mean divorce is a serious thing, and Divorce Hotel is in no way making light of divorce, or making a kitschy, catchy divorce process. No, we're very serious about it. But we do find that couples by the end of the weekend, we've had some laughs, let me tell you. There has been fun. They in most cases have gone out together. They don't have to, but they decide to go to dinner together. Saratoga is a very fun town, and there have been a lot of laughs. So by the end of the weekend we're generally really in a good place, really happy, we've had fun. People have said we haven't gotten along this well in years. I hear that every time. Then so the next question people ask me when I tell them that is, well gosh, are they reconsidering getting divorced then, and are you trying to get them to stay together? The answer is no. People, I believe once they've made the decision, and they've come this far, they've made that decision to get divorced. But hey, if you have to co-parent, and you have to know this person pretty much for the rest of your life, leaving and being able to joke around, and basically be friends is really an amazing thing, and we feel really good about that.

Shawn: That's great. If someone wants to learn more about the Divorce Hotel, in particular in the media. Because there has been lots of different press reports, and videos, etc. What are some of the best ones that people should check out? Because this is not the traditional concept that most people think about when it comes to divorce generally, or even mediation.

Michele: Exactly. Because it's such a unique concept we've been lucky to have received a lot of press. If you Google Divorce Hotels there are so many articles. But I think the best one that really shows what this process is like is ABC's Nightline was with us through an entire weekend with a couple. They followed them the entire weekend. Of course they didn't broadcast any really personal information about finances, etc., but they followed them through the weekend, followed them going on bike rides, having dinner together, some of the things they were nervous about. They interviewed them over breakfast. What are you expecting? What are you feeling? They did a great job with the piece. I feel like if you watch that you get a really good idea of what Divorce Hotel is all about.

There was another great article in the New York Post where a New York Post reporter did the same thing. She was with us for a weekend with a different couple, and then documented. I think that gave a really good overview of how this works, and talked to the people about why they chose Divorce Hotel, and what they were hoping to achieve, and how was their outcome. I think it's very informative for people. When people contact me after the discussion, and I send them literature and a brochure I always point them, or send them links to those articles to give them a really good idea.

Shawn: That's excellent. I'm going to include for the listeners a link to both the Nightline special, and the New York Post article in the show notes in case you want to check out those articles and videos. Michele, what's the best way for people to contact you if they want to learn more about the Divorce Hotel?

Michele: Sure. So the best initial contact would be to go to our website divorcehotel.com. There we have live chat if you want to chat with, you'll get me actually, so I can answer your questions live right there. That usually works well, because people are sometimes nervous about taking that initial step, and having an anonymous chat feels good for them. There's my email address, my phone number, web mail right there, and a lot of information on how to get started.

Shawn: Thank you very much Michele for being on the show.

Michele: Well thanks Shawn, I really appreciate it. Thank you.

Thank you for listening to the Divorce and Your Money Show. We hope the show helps you through one of the most difficult periods of your life. Shawn Leamon is also the author of Divorce and Your Money: The No-Nonsense Guide. One-on-one financial coaching services are available at www.divorceandyourmoney.com.

If you enjoyed the show, please take a moment to leave a review on iTunes, as it will help other people discover this free advice.

Shawn Leamon, MBA, CDFA

Dallas, Texas

Shawn C. H. Leamon is Managing Partner of LaGrande Global, a firm that helps successful families manage large financial transitions like divorce, inheritance and selling a business.

He earned his Bachelor of Arts from Dartmouth College, double majoring in Economics and Philosophy, and his Masters in Business Administration at Spain’s IE Business School.

Before founding LaGrande Global, Shawn helped manage $1.1 billion in client assets at Bernstein Global Wealth Management. He also worked as a credit research analyst at J.P. Morgan. He is a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst, and he has been an advisor to numerous high-stakes divorce cases.

Shawn is the author of two well-received finance books: Managing Private Wealth: Principles, and Divorce and Your Money: The No-Nonsense Guide, both published in 2016.

In his spare time, Shawn is an ultra-endurance athlete and has competed in events as long as 24 hours. He is an Eagle Scout and a member of the Alumni Board of Greenhill School.