From natural to marital disasters

The former head of the National
Recovery Fund is stepping into another stormy situation – this time as a
mediator of messy divorces.

Mark Laskin is setting up a company
to mediate in divorces and family issues.

At the same time, he is also
getting involved in the opposite spectrum of relationships by launching an
online dating service affiliated with the one of the biggest web-based dating
sites, match.com.

Mr. Laskin left the NRF last year,
with little fanfare after working there for nearly five years since the Fund
was set up to help Cayman recover and rebuild following the devastation of
Hurricane Ivan.

Now he says he’s turning his hand
to helping people come to amicable resolutions of marital breakups and
disputes.

“This is high divorce season,” said
Mr. Laskin, explaining the timing behind the venture. “After Christmas and new
year, people’s expectations are high… they think Christmas time is a time for
love and forgiveness and that does not always happen.”

The new venture also comes at a
time when Cayman’s divorce rate is rising. In 2008 – the most recent annual statistics
available from the Economics and Statistics Office – for every five weddings,
there were two divorces. A total of 196 divorces were granted in 2008, while
487 resident marriages were celebrated. In 2007, 162 divorces were granted,
compared to 158 in 2006 and 145 in 2005.

Mr. Laskin says his business, which will
be an independent company based within Priestley’s law firm, will offer an alternative
path for couples whose relationships have broken down and who cannot afford
long, drawn out disputes involving lawyers who make a living out of acrimonious
legal disputes.

 “There
are a lot of lawyers in Cayman.  The idea
is that this is an alternative mechanism to an adversarial dispute. It is a way
of being able to implement and resolve the problem without using proxies. It is
based on solutions rather than putting the fox in charge of the hen house,” he
said.

Other disputes

The service will not just
concentrate on divorce dispute resolutions, but also employment and business
disputes and landlord/tenant issues.

He has previously run a mediation
service in the UK where he worked as a psychiatrist. He said he helped resolve
70 per cent of the disputes that were brought to him.

“The other 30 per cent didn’t [get
resolved] because they wanted to use it as a mechanism to score points off the
other,” he said.

The service, called Professional
Mediation Service, will share office space with Priestley’s law firm at the
Galleria Plaza.

Attorney Daniel Priestley said he
hoped the two businesses would be able to help each other.

“Obviously, mediation has a place
in the dispute resolution process. In the UK, there are many, many mediation
services. For instance, if you are getting divorced, the first thing the judge
will ask is ‘Have you tried mediation?’” he said, adding that there was a lack
of mediation services in Cayman.

“The alternative is using the court
system which is very slow and costly and not necessarily the best way of
dealing with certain problems.”

He added: “There are many disputes
where the amounts at stake are very low and don’t justify going to attorneys.”

Whether people in Cayman will be
willing to embrace the concept of mediation in disputes remains to be seen, Mr.
Priestley said. “

Lawyers at Priestley’s will refer
individuals who they believe can benefit from mediation, while Mr. Laskin will,
in turn, pass along any clients for whom mediation has not worked to the law
firm.

“It is intended to be an informal
association based on the needs of the clients,” Mr. Priestley said.

Mr. Laskin said he hoped other law
firms would also refer cases that could benefit from mediation to his company
as well.

Dating service

The dating service is expected to
be launched in the near future, the former National Recovery Fund chief said.

This service is a joint venture
with a web designer and is connected with the international dating online
service match.com, but will focus on individuals living in the Cayman Islands.

“And it won’t be just for dating.
People can use it to find sports buddies, for squash, or hiking, or diving, for
example,” Mr. Laskin said.

“It’s still in the
planning stage. We have the site up online but we’re still working on it,” he
added.