Attorney Walter H. Bentley III of Southfield, Mich., will be offering a lucky client a Valentine's Day special: a free divorce.
He got the idea, he tells ABC News, when one of his students in a night school class he teaches invited him to a party. "She'd just had her divorce finalized," says Bentley, "and she was celebrating. I'd never thought about that before—celebrating divorce. So, I thought, why not do something special for Valentine's Day? You can't find a new love before you close the chapter on the old."
Bentley's website gives contest rules: "The winner will be chosen based on the most compelling and convincing story as to why they should be the winner. The divorce is limited to an uncontested divorce with no or minimum child custody issues." It's limited to Michigan residents. The deadline for applying is 11:59 p.m. EST on February 12.
Nearly 500 people have applied so far, says Bentley.
As decision hour nears, he his colleagues, he says, will narrow down the list, picking the stories they feel are most affecting. Then, after the contest closes, they will make their decision. "We're looking for someone truly struggling to move forward," he says, "maybe someone who's overcome some obstacle —a foreclosure, say. Maybe they're struggling to make ends meet, and they don't have enough money for a divorce."
An illness also could give them a leg up. "Somebody diagnosed with cancer. Maybe that's one reason their spouse no longer wants to be with them," he speculates.
A quick look around the U.S. by ABC News found some other attorneys offering divorce specials for Valentine's Day, but in them the winner is expected to pay court costs and filing fees. Bentley's appears to be the only completely free ticket to splitsville.
"They won't have to take out their wallet for anything," he says. "All the hearings, all the paperwork. I will pay all the fees and expenses, to the end. What they're getting would ordinarily cost them $1,500 to $3,000."
What kind of feedback has he gotten from clients or fellow attorneys? "90 percent positive. They all know I've got a big heart."
A survey in 2011 by Avvo.com, a service that matches attorneys with clients, found a strong uptick in the number of people seeking divorce advice around Valentine's Day.
But attorneys aren't the only people to profit from unions being put asunder.
Josh Opperman was jilted by his fiancée six years ago. As if that wasn't bad enough, he discovered when tried to re-sell the engagement ring for which he'd paid $10,000 that his jeweler wouldn't give him a dime more than $3,500. He tells this story on the website he since has launched for persons buying or selling slightly-used engagement rings and wedding bands, "I Do Now I Don't."
Among the used wedding bands currently showcased is one priced at $1,077. "Ring owned by a real prince!" says the listing. "1 CT diamond/ 14K Gold. I am the only son of the last remaining descendant of the King & Queen of an overthrown monarchy. This was my wedding ring. As you can see, things did not work out as planned; however, the ex-fiancee and I are still close friends and we will always love each other." The deposed king signs himself "Johnny."