We use technology in almost every part of our lives, from checking out what our friends are doing on social media to figuring where to eat for dinner to organising our finances.
So much of what we do and what we know is online, and all kinds of devices – phones, laptops, smart TVs, watches, fitness trackers – are now everyday items.
This is the way the world is moving, and technology is a welcome addition to so many areas of our lives.
What if family disputes were resolved by technology too?
Law is one area that has typically been slower than others in including technology in its processes, but there is a new push in family law for online dispute resolution systems, or ODR (Online Dispute Resolution).
Family law and dispute resolution
An ODR system saves couples time and money by reviewing their situation and providing information based on results in similar cases.
The artificial intelligence system would also advise couples on whether or not they should go to court.
Going to court is a costly, time-consuming and often emotionally draining affair.
Online dispute resolution would hopefully spare couples some of the negative effects of their relationship breakdown.
ODR systems in Australia are based on a model called Rechtwijzer which was developed in the Netherlands.
The UK and Canada also use the Dutch technology to resolve family law disputes.
When an ODR is well-designed, high-powered and intuitive to use, it can be very practical and helpful for couples.
It is estimated that up to 20 percent of cases could be solved online.
The disadvantages of ODR
The problem with online dispute resolutions, particularly in family law, is the computerisation of a process that often works better when done face to face in real life.
Although the ODR can provide information and guidance based on similar cases, the experience is not specific to each couple.
Specific, individualised advice is crucial in resolving family disputes, and the truth is that it is usually very difficult to predict the outcome of a case based solely on results in similar cases.
Face-to-face legal consultation means couples receive advice specific to them and their situation.
Some legal issues are simply too complicated to be solved by a computer.
This is especially true in property settlements between divorcing spouses.
In court, property disputes are considered on a case-by-case basis.
Therefore, the judge’s decision is specific to the couple in question, and the judge can exercise their own discretion when determining the outcome.
An ODR is also unable to provide information on the parties’ financial entitlements or obligations.
A second problem that comes with resolving family disputes online is that, even with an intuitive design, an ODR might not be easily accessible for people who are not highly computer literate.
For someone who is uncomfortable with using some technology, or finds it difficult, an ODR is not the most suitable option.
An important part of the court process is that it allows couples to appeal decisions or correct any mistakes after the finalisation of a divorce.
An ODR poses problems in this regard as it does not offer any avenues for correction or change after the dispute has been resolved.
The advantages Of ODR
The main attraction of online dispute resolution, however, is that it is much more affordable than seeing a divorce lawyer.
Legal proceedings can be incredibly expensive, and it is also well-known that going to the family court tends to involve long delays.
By using ODR, couples can avoid these costs and delays and the frustration that they cause.
Online dispute resolution comes under the category of alternative dispute resolution.
Alternative dispute resolutions are the methods and processes couples can use to resolve their disputes without going to court.
Other examples are mediation, facilitation and negotiation.
These still require a third person’s involvement in the resolution of the case, whereas online dispute resolution makes the resolution process more private.
Couples can take control of their own dispute resolution with ODR, and this could have a great appeal for some people.
The technological revolution is an inescapable part of life in the 21st Century.
The progress of technology in the legal world is no doubt useful and important in many ways, but the fact remains that a computer system cannot replace personalised advice provided face-to-face by a legal professional.
Principal of Justice Family Lawyers, a Sydney Law Firm specialising in Family Law Cases.