Reimagining family law for the 21st Century

How one innovative startup is using tech to take the drama out of divorce

Divorce has the potential to be one of the most stressful and emotionally damaging things that anyone can experience. Facing the end of a relationship is hard enough, but added financial discussions and figuring out childcare arrangements can make the process even more painful. Unfortunately, in many cases, the traditional legal system just doesn’t work and can make the situation worse.

One startup trying to make divorce less difficult is amicable. Set up in 2015, amicable was created by Pip Wilson and Kate Daly following Daly's expensive and traumatic divorce. Having concluded that the system was broken, Wilson and Daly developed a LegalTech platform to give customers an alternative to the courts.

Divorce: a drain on society

According to Pip Wilson, there is a 42 per cent divorce rate in the UK. The cost of divorce is alarmingly high – and not just for the couple themselves.

“If your divorce takes two years and is dragged through the court, you're going to miss a lot of work, have emotional stress, and find it harder to recover and move forward. But if your divorce takes nine months and you're still at speaking terms with your ex-partner at the end of it, your ability to move on is much greater.”

“The cost of relationship breakdown up to the tax payer is £48bn a year. That's £1,200 to every tax payer. It's the cost of social services, court proceedings, and of all the authorities that get involved when things get really acrimonious.”

While the 42 per cent divorce rate is high in percentage terms, the number of divorces has dropped slightly over the past few years due to fewer marriages. Despite this, the breakdown of non-marital relationships can be just as complicated, especially if there are children involved. Not only does this add another dimension to negotiations – it increases the chance of disagreement and draws out proceedings even further.

Amicable advises parents to see their divorce as a change of relationship rather than the end. The ability to navigate this change makes the difference between successful co-parents and individuals who damage their children through acrimony and arguments.

Taking on traditional law

The family law sector system is yet to take full advantage of digital disruption, although the government and companies, like amicable, are now heavily investing in transformational tech in this area.

Up until now, disruption within the family law market has been slow. This is partly because it is so complex and data (especially in relation to financial separations) is not readily available in the UK like it is in other countries.

In family law, says Wilson, the way in which lawyers work has stayed the same for decades.

“Communication is so much easier today than it was 20 or 30 years ago. If you look at how we communicate as a society now, most people use digital chats and messaging platforms. This approach is lacking in family law. We built amicable’s website and AI driven chatbot to increase access to justice, by making information readily available and digestible for non-legal folk. The end of a relationship can be stressful enough without adding in legal jargon to get your head around and hourly consultation fees too."

It's likely that you’ve heard stories of separating couples who have been stung by the outdated legal system. Wilson explains that when ending a marriage, people go through the various stages of the change curve. They might feel sadness, anger, and denial, but will eventually accept the situation. Too often, separating couples launch themselves into the legal process of divorce and do not tend to the emotional journey.

“Having a lawyer to work on your behalf is sometimes absolutely right for your situation but increasingly couples are actively avoiding this approach. For many separating couples, they want to move on, amicably, without spending thousands of pounds of legal fees. If there are children involved, it’s important that the lines of communication stay open and help is given to help with the transition from parents to co-parents.”

Technology vs. traditional procedure

Once a separating couple has found and paid for solicitors to help negotiate their financial settlement the process is only just beginning. They may need to take time off work to go to meetings or attend court. The settlement can take years, and bring with it unnecessary complications. The alternative is to do things digitally. Rather than going straight to a lawyer, people can use a range of LegalTech services to build up their own knowledge and, if possible, stay clear of the courts.

“At the moment, we have a platform that people can manage their divorce and financial settlement through. They can buy the service, enter their information, get updates on paperwork from the court, and get automatic process updates on the platform's dashboard throughout,” says Wilson. “We also have an AI chatbot for people who want to ask basic questions. We're continually training it to answer more and more questions to give people more access to information for free. We also have an app for people to collect information before they start their divorce.”

Due to the sensitivities surrounding divorce, amicable also provides customers with a named divorce coach that they can speak to via video, phone or email. Of course, not all cases can be settled in this way. The courts certainly have an important role to play when there is misconduct or added complexities such as domestic abuse.

A new legal landscape

LegalTech startups like amicable are helping to drive changes in the legal system, matching technology with how society operates today. Other companies like Beyond Legal and Robot Lawyer LISA are showing that there is an alternative to the traditional way of divorcing and separating.

“There is a recognition in the legal industry that technology is becoming more and more important," says Wilson. "The industry is changing, because it has too. The world is moving online.”