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D-I-V-O-R-C-E, the franchise


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Karen Stewart

Karen Stewart has turned her own difficult divorce experience into a franchise.

The franchise model is simple: Remove all the emotion, the fighting, the lawyers' fees from the divorce process.

"There are only two issues in divorce," says Karen Stewart, founder of Fairway Divorce Solutions in Canada, "money and kids."

Negotiators walk divorcing couples through the process, dealing first with money and then with children. Once the couple determines what their assets are and the best way to split them, they move on to children's custody issues. Doing it in that order "lowers the temperature of stress," Stewart alleges.

Stewart's background is in finance, not law. She started a number of companies, including a financial services firm which saw divorcing couples not dealing well with splitting their stock portfolios.

In 2001, she found herself embroiled in her own divorce that cost her a half million dollars in legal fees and millions in the destruction of her business. And this, to a woman who had the financial acumen and the funds to hire the best lawyers. "I got wrapped up in the emotions," she admits.

She wrote a book about divorce and money, and then decided to turn it into a business. "I thought it was time to hold divorce up to business practices," she says.

Stewart's not removing the divorce process from the law. "The law protects us," she says. "But the lawyer's role is different from the law. I'm not anti-lawyer; I'm anti-system."

She opened the first center in 2006 and to date has sold two franchises, with interest from as far away as Australia. The flagship operation is in Calgary, Canada. The initial investment is around $250,000, and the average negotiation is between $4,000 and $5,000 per person (both parties have to agree to hire the firm) and can go up to $30,000 per person.

The franchisees are business people, and while they can also be the negotiators, that skill set is not common. In most cases they will be a CPA with a negotiation or mediation background.

Recovering lawyers can become franchisees – just as long as they remember to put children last.

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