The reform of matrimonial finance in England & Wales has long been subject to debates, from discretionary powers granted to judges to quantifying spousal maintenance. In this article, Yasmin Khan-Gunns considers the integration of technology and artificial intelligence (AI) in the reform of matrimonial finance law.
How can AI potentially reshape family law?
1. Predictive analytics for financial settlement outcomes
The discretionary system in family law poses difficulties for family solicitors and barristers and lay individuals when predicting case outcomes. This contributes to prolonged disputes, excessive legal costs, and added pressure on the court system.
An AI-driven platform, which extracts and analyses outcomes of financial remedy cases across England & Wales.
- HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) Initiative: HMCTS initiates an AI platform accessible via a dedicated court site.
- Data Input: After every successful FDR, Final Hearing or Consent Order (lodged through the portal or otherwise), court staff would input headline facts and figures to a court database along with the financial outcome. Forms D81, ES1 and ES2 could be uploaded to save time.
- AI Date Extraction: Advanced AI software extracts and evaluates database information, updating the platform with real-time data.
- User Input: Users input case specifics, including ages, children, income and asset details.
- Instant Results: Users click a button ‘Find a case similar to mine’ to view anonymised cases and financial outcomes.
- Further Analysis: With enough funding, another button could estimate a user’s likely financial outcome.
Funding is essential for this AI integration. The need for staff assistance will vary based on the AI sophistication.
This extraction, analysis, and predictive AI tool would offer valuable insights, potentially facilitating earlier settlements and easing the burden on the courts.
2. Real-time information access
Family solicitors and barristers and individuals +6 find it frustrating and time-consuming to be kept on hold for extended periods when seeking basic information from the Court.
An AI-driven chatbot, trained to interact with users via natural language dialogue, could immediately address FAQs and give real-time updates on financial remedy proceedings.
- HMCTS Initiative: HMCTS creates an AI platform, accessible via a website or phone app.
- Live Data Input: Admin staff and court clerks update a court database daily, or perhaps bidaily. This could include:
- Application processing times, e.g. ‘Birmingham Family Court’s non-urgent application: 6 weeks.’
- Email response times, e.g. ‘Manchester Family Court’s general inquiries: 2 business days.’
- Next available trial dates, e.g. ‘Central Family Court’s next 4-day trial: 19 Feb 2024.’
- AI Data Extraction: AI software updates the platform with the latest data.
- AI Chatbot Interface: Users engage an AI Chatbot on the website/app for instant responses.
The AI Chatbot immediately provides answers, saves time, and helps users to prepare effectively. While some features, such as live judge updates, might be omitted due to time and funding constraints, the platform would be hugely valuable in providing swift information in several areas, reserving court phone lines for urgent issues.
3. AI-powered chatbot for family law guidance
For people who cannot afford legal advice and have limited knowledge of their matrimonial rights and processes,, this can lead to lengthy negotiations, unfair consent orders, informal agreements that cause future problems, and commencing court proceedings without considering ADR.
An accessible AI chatbot, akin to Chat-GPT4, could be integrated into the HMCTS website. This would provide people with a platform to obtain quick answers on matrimonial finances, drawing from existing information on the HMCTS website and other reputable sources.
- HMCTS Initiative: HMCTS creates a chatbot on its website dedicated to addressing queries on matrimonial finance.
- User Interaction: Ask questions; the chatbot responds instantly.
- Disclaimer: The chatbot emphasises that it is not a replacement for legal advice, urging users to consult with a professional.
Introducing a chatbot on the HMCTS website could be transformative. It is important to differentiate this chatbot from typical search engines. This chatbot provides specific and custom-tailored answers, reflecting its specialised training.
4. Assisting family law professionals
Despite rapid advances in AI technology, many family solicitors and barristers are reluctant to integrate AI into their daily routines. This reluctance may stem from a lack of understanding or training, or from fears about how it might diminish their perceived value.
Goldman Sachs has indicated that AI could automate up to 44% of legal tasks in the US. AI has vast potential in family law, from drafting standard communications and proofreading to researching case law.
The creation of a sophisticated chatbot that taps into an array of family law resources. Solicitors and barristers could request a myriad of tasks, such as:
- ‘Draft a letter to a husband explaining our divorce application. Outline the process and the need for Forms E exchange in 28 days.’
- ‘Draft a letter to my client on handling an unexpected visit from her abusive spouse.’
The development of an AI system that quickly and accurately sorts and analyses vast amounts of financial disclosure, summarising the content and flagging unusual transactions.
The creation of an AI platform that is integrated with standardised financial remedy orders, crafting custom consent orders for family law professionals and individuals who need their help.
In England & Wales, technology and AI are already transforming family law, as seen with platforms like OurFamilyWizard and their ToneMeter function. The journey shouldn’t end here. For AI to reach its full potential, family law professionals must see it as a complementary tool, not a substitute. To implement the reforms, policymakers and HMCTS will need to pilot programs, allocate resources, partner with tech firms, maintain data protection, set ethical standards and much more.
If you have questions about using AI in relation to a family law matter, please contact Yasmin Khan-Gunns.
This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. It should not be used as a substitute for legal advice relating to your particular circumstances. Please note that the law may have changed since the date of this article.