By Gianna Huesch
When working out parenting and property disputes, experts agree that families are generally better served by making use of dispute resolution processes rather than proceeding through the family court system, given the lengthy delays and high costs involved in litigation. There are already a number of excellent dispute resolution alternatives to court for families to consider, from mediation to collaborative divorce and arbitration, but these still involve hiring lawyers and consequently incurring costs that not all families can afford.
Now the Government has announced it will fund National Legal Aid to investigate how an online dispute resolution (ODR) system can be created which will help steer more families towards dispute resolution as they work through their family law issues, in many cases enabling them to resolve their disputes themselves.
Seed funding of $341,000 has been provided for National Legal Aid to scope, design and deliver an Australian ODR system, with findings due to be presented to the Government in 2018. Similar systems have already had great success in Holland and the UK. The systems rely on artificial intelligence technology similar to that used by ebay for their vendor/vendee dispute resolution system.
National Legal Aid Chairman Graham Hill describes ODR as “transformative” in that access to dispute resolution will be more readily available for those families who don’t qualify for Legal Aid but at the same time can’t afford legal practitioners. NLA estimates that as many as one in five family law disputes can potentially be worked out using ODR technology.
Mr Hill says the ODR system is intended to “guide couples towards their own agreed settlement, which would be ratified by the Family Court, potentially saving years and tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees”.
Users input information from which the technology produces a series of likely outcomes, using previous cases. It helps separating couples “identify their differences and work through them”, says Dr Hill, much the same way as practitioners do in traditional dispute resolution settings, but at a lower cost for users and freeing up “thousands of hours of court time”.
The project is to be managed by the South Australian Legal Services Commission (SALSC). Gabrielle Canny, director of the SALSC, has previously said that ODR and other new technologies will not replace human lawyers and will not be able to solve all family law disputes, given how complex many are. But she said it was “empowering” for couples that the technology could help narrow down the areas of dispute they faced, and would help them anticipate how judges would be likely to rule in their situation, which would drive more collaboration and mediated settlements.
If you are interested in discussing the dispute resolution options that are currently available, such as collaborative law (in which we have a particular expertise and interest), please contact Canberra family lawyer Cristina Huesch or one of our other experienced solicitors here at Alliance Family Law, on (02) 6223 2400.
Please note our blogs are not legal advice. For information on how to obtain the correct legal advice for your circumstances, please contact us here at Alliance.