E-DIVORCE: How artificial intelligence could help Australian couples break up quickly and cheaply

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The federal government has granted $341,000 to National Legal Aid to investigate creating a system that could reduce the number of long and expensive divorce proceedings.

The scoping project will be managed by the South Australia Legal Services Commission.

NLA chairman Graham Hill said that artificial intelligence would be used to “deliver low-cost, user-friendly legal assistance to help separating couples identify their differences and work through them”.

“Family breakdowns are invariably awful and so too are the legal disputes that often follow them. Too often, these disputes prove to be too expensive, too time-consuming, too painful and too adversarial for all parties,” he said.

“I estimate 20% of all family law disputes in Australia could, in the future, be resolved through online dispute resolution. This technology would save thousands of hours of court time.”

Australia currently sees more than 48,000 divorces processed each year.

Hill said an online service could be especially be useful for people in the “missing middle” that couldn’t afford expensive lawyers but didn’t qualify for legal aid. The agreed settlement out of the electronic process would be ratified at the end by the Family Court.

South Australia Legal Services Commission director Gabrielle Canny said artificial intelligence could help couples foresee how a human judge might rule on their circumstances, helping them come to a resolution earlier.

“Technology, including so-called ‘robot lawyers’, is not designed to replace lawyers and cannot resolve all types of family law disagreements. But it can empower couples to reduce the areas of dispute. That can only be a good thing.”

Last year, National Legal Aid hosted a forum with RMIT University on the possibility of an e-divorce system for Australia. Victorian Legal Aid managing director Bevan Warner said at the time the ODR system in the Netherlands showed positive results for all parties.

“The Dutch technology helps people deal comprehensively with their legal problem and encourages a mediated settlement rather than recourse to lawyers and courts. Agreements reached through collaboration tend to be more effective than decisions imposed by judges.”

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