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Digitised divorce: can a computer replace a solicitor?

18th January 2017
Digitised divorce: can a computer replace a solicitor?

According to PwC, the installation of advanced technology is a key concern among legal professionals. Ranging from artificial intelligence through to streamlined billing management, the legal sector is slowly but surely digitising its practices – but what will a digitised divorce look like?

With crowded courts and increasing legal fees, the Ministry of Justice recently announced that it would be working on an online tool, supported by formulae, to assist couples and guide them through divorce proceedings. In return, the Ministry hopes that this will save time, remove arbitrary paperwork, and relieve stress for thousands of people.

The Times recently revealed that research has already begun with end users and the ministry remains hopeful that the reforms will transform the justice system. This will involve working with a specialist accessibility centre to help ensure that service meets compliance needs, as well as developing an online tool that will be part of wider work to support and incentivise separating and separated couples to mediate on their own accord and settle independently where possible.

However, the Ministry of Justice may have some competition. Earlier this week, start-up Amicable announced an app that aims to be a faster, fairer, fixed-price way to separate. The app offers arbitration, a divorce coach and lots of practical advice to help people reach a fairer divorce faster, simplifying the process and reducing their costs. According to their website, our aim is to create a dialogue between parting couples so they can, for example, successfully co-parent children after a split and not make an enemy of their ex. And the demand is certainly there, just under half of the 240,000 marriages that took place in the UK in 2014 ended in divorce.

However, the advancement isnt without its concerns. At Vardags, we are conscious of the very human aspect of family law. This is not a simple case of predicting human behaviour, or even producing a well-developed calculation in order to identify the financial demands. Upon instruction, our clients are often in the most emotionally fragile and vulnerable state – desperate for insight and instruction through the web of matrimonial law. Whilst an app may be able to reduce costs, this comes at the price of human connection and the legal intuition necessary to mediate a complex divorce case. In addition, whilst the price of divorce continues to rise, this may be a reflection of the increasing complexity of a couples finances. Long gone are the days where few women brought money into the home – instead, there is a clear pattern of equal breadwinners, and with that comes divisive income, complex assets, and muddy cash-flow. Of course it is right to invest in technology to help unravel these finances and simplify the data, however to imply that an app could make sensitive decisions and negotiate on behalf of clients is misguided and underestimates the value of advocacy.

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