Package holiday to Caribbean offers unhappy couples 'quickie divorce'

A package tour company has offered unhappy couples the chance to divorce in just ten minutes during their Caribbean break.

A new service will fly one, or both, partners out to the Dominican Republic, where a judge can complete the process in a ten-minute hearing. They can then jet back to the UK or enjoy some of the island's stunning beaches as single men and women.

The 4,500 pounds service, which includes air fares, hotel and paperwork, greatly accelerates a divorce process, which can take months, or even years, in Britain. Clients can jet in one day, see the judge the following morning then fly home that afternoon.

The Internet company launching the service tomorrow, on the eve of Valentine's Day, said that the decrees obtained in the Dominican Republic would be recognised in the UK.

However, independent legal experts warned that they might not bear up to scrutiny if any aspect of the split was later contested.

A divorce in Britain takes at least four months, even when both partners are keen to proceed. For no-fault divorces, couples have to undergo two years of separation before they can even initiate proceedings.

The process can be a lot quicker if one side makes uncontested allegations that the marriage has broken down because of unreasonable behaviour or adultery, but in such cases evidence still has to be provided to the court.

However, the new service being offered by completes all the paperwork in a week, provided all potential issues of conflict, from the custody of any children to dividing up property, have been agreed in writing.

The company translates all necessary documents such as marriage certificates into Spanish, then at least one of the couple must travel to the Dominican Republic capital San Domingo.

If one spouse does not attend, they have to sign a power of attorney, witnessed by a British court official, stating that they consent to the split and are happy to be represented abroad by their soon-to-be ex.

Under British law, divorces abroad are recognised only if one of the parties is a national, a habitual resident or is domiciled in the country where it takes place.

But Aimee Edwards, who set up Bridgend-based QuickdivorceUK with her husband Benjamin, said that Dominican Republic law allows British citizens to be treated as domiciled there even if they make only a fleeting visit.

She added there was strong demand for such a service and that she already had five couples waiting to use it.

There is already a trade in Dom-inican Republic divorces for American couples. In 1998 singer Mariah Carey ended her five-year marriage to record company chief Tommy Mottola there, and Mia Farrow and Andre Previn's divorce papers were also filed there.

However, critics have complained that such quickie divorces are undermining the institution of marriage.

"Any system that allows for swift, no-fault divorces inevitably devalues marriage. Marriage involves a lifelong commitment and is therefore not something to be entered into lightly or ended in haste," the Daily Mail quoted Norman Wells, director of the Family Education Trust as saying.

"Instead of providing struggling couples with a quick escape route, we should be encouraging them to talk through their difficulties with a view to resolving their differences and restoring their marriage.

"When a couple decide to divorce they've already made up their minds about their marriage, and it won't make any difference to their feelings whether it takes days or months to finalise it.

"We're simply offering a service for which we know there is demand. Why should it take so long for couples to divorce even when they both agree to it?" Wells said.

She said the divorce decrees would be valid in the UK, because they had been authenticated by the courts and government officials in the Dominican Republic.

Other lawyers said that as there was unlikely to be a dispute in consensual divorces, British authorities were unlikely to question them. But if problems later arose, the UK courts might take a "hard look" at the legality of overseas decrees.

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