Breaking Up at the Divorce Hotel in Holland

The World

(Photo: Radio Netherlands Worldwide)

Manya Gupta

The five star Hotel Karel the Fifth in Utrecht looks ideal for a weekend getaway. In the bustling lobby, there's no shortage of advertisements for kissing couples hoping for a romantic retreat. But Jim Halfens looks at the hotel and sees something else – a nice place to get divorced. Halfens isn't a lawyer. He runs a company that specializes in offering a quick, lower-cost alternative to divorce. About half a year ago, he was interviewing divorcees, doing some market research. "They told us – divorce is very critical, I'm getting into a roller coaster," Halfens said. "I'm not able to work anymore. My boss is complaining. Sometimes it takes three months. We have examples where it takes three years. And people were wondering – is there no other solution?" That's when Halfens got the idea for the Divorce Hotel. Let's be clear – it's not one hotel filled with a bunch of unhappy couples. It's a legal service that Halfens offers in Dutch luxury hotels. "It's a divorce in three days, roundabouts, in a hotel," Halfens said. "And what's important to know is that not everyone is suitable to go in a hotel, of course. Couples thinking about going through the Divorce Hotel process have to start with a set of extensive interviews. If they decide they can settle their differences quickly, with a mediator instead of lawyers, then they choose a four or five star hotel. Over three days, the mediator and other specialists — notaries, even psychologists — are on hand to help the couple. "If the marriage can be saved, we always tell people they are at the wrong address at the divorce hotel," said Marie-Louise Van As, a lawyer who works as a mediator at the Divorce Hotel. She notes that the three-day hotel stays are not a vacation. There are checklists, homework she calls it, that the couples have to do ahead of time. But, Van As says, it's worth it for many couples. "In Holland to get divorced usually lasts six to nine months," Van As said. "A bad divorce, a fighting divorce, can last five to 10 years. And cost 50,000 Euros or more. That's close to $70,000. The Divorce Hotel, on the other hand, runs about $3,500. The price includes accommodation. So far, all of the couples have chosen to stay in separate rooms. Jim Halfens won't say which hotels he recommends to clients – and he also won't put me in touch with couples who have been through the process. He will say that only seven couples have tried the Divorce Hotel. Still the Dutch media have picked up on the story giving it a fairly obvious soundtrack, to Elvis Presley's "Heartbreak Hotel". Halfens laughs about this … kind of. "We don't break hearts," Halfens said. "The heart is already broken, but we make it more positive to go on with your life, and we help, sort of, to help people go on with their lives in a faster way than is possible in a traditional divorce." He says he gets emails every day from people in places like Brazil, Britain, Taiwan, Italy and Germany asking whether they can try the Divorce Hotel. Those countries have different divorce laws, so for now the Divorce Hotel is only for Dutch couples. But Halfens does hope to find partners in the coming months to help him start the service in neighboring Germany.