This spring is set to see the launch of the UK’s first online dispute resolution (ODR) service.
The service is being launched by Relate, one of the UK’s largest support providers for those experiencing relationship issues.
The system will be aimed at couples who are going through divorce or separation, and will aim to offer them a new way of resolving their disputes.
As well as offering the convenience and efficiency of an online service, Relate’s new ODR system aims to be less confrontational and adversarial than traditional methods of resolving a dispute during a divorce.
Modria, a specialist in ODR systems based in the USA, has developed the platform. Modria previously built a similar system for use in the Netherlands, the Rechtwijzer, which was the first dispute resolution platform of its kind anywhere in Europe.
The Rechtwijzer provides couples with easy access to legal advice and support along with tools for “self-help” in negotiating a settlement.
The platform ultimately leads couples to a valid, legally-binding agreement with minimal need for professional intervention. The system has currently been in operation for around a year, and has been praised for its considerable success in relieving pressure on the legal system while offering couples an accessible and practical alternative dispute resolution method.
The system that Modria has created for Relate will be similar in many ways to the Dutch system but, unlike the Rechtwijzer, has not benefited from any government funding. Rather, Relate has raised the money necessary to develop the system through a number of different channels, and continue to seek additional funding in order to improve the system in the future with additional features and functionality. In particular, Relate hopes to make the system one that can be safely accessed and used by children.
The new ODR platform, which has also received input from prominent family law organisation Resolution, is described by Relate as a “single point of access for information and support for all families before, during, and after separation.” Joe Korner, Relate’s Director of Policy and Communications, also described the system as “a one-stop shop for people going through separation.”
In particular, Korner pointed to the fact that “there is nothing in the system which actually requires the involvement of mediators or lawyers – it is a technology-facilitated negotiation process.” However, he also went on to point out that couples will also have access to legal advice and support, including trained mediators, either online or offline if they have trouble settling things entirely through the use of the automated system.
Currently, Resolution plans to initially carry out a “soft” roll-out of the system in the spring. This will then be followed by twelve months of continued development and improvement, after which it is hoped the software will be ready to be made “available to everyone.”
This article was contributed by Terrence Trainor, Head of Family Law at Fletcher Day.