Online divorce project ‘on hold’

online, family life

Development of an online mediation system for divorcing and separating couples in the UK has been suspended.

Once completed, the site will offer advice and information on the various aspects of relationships ending and enable users to proceed as far as legally binding agreement if they wish. It was inspired by a similar system used in Holland called Rechtwijzer, which roughly translates as ‘The Law Pointer’.

Development of the UK project was a joint venture between the relationship charity Relate and a number of private investors, including Google. Relate received no government funding and it has now announced that it cannot proceed without additional investment.

Nevertheless, progress has been made. A spokeswoman for Relate told Legal Futures:

“The latest on the project is that the service has been tested and we have gained a lot of insight about what is needed to further customise it for families in England and Wales.”

She added:

“We are working in a challenging climate, however, and we are currently looking at what is needed to take a service forward to launch. Securing additional funding would be key to this.”

Professor Roger Smith is a former director of human rights campaign group Justice. He believes the Relate system could meet a real need and its abandonment would be a “total waste”.

“People in most situations of family break-up no longer have access to legal aid. They have to struggle through as best they can. The Relate project is exactly the sort of the thing we should be exploring.”

Rechtwijzer has already been the basis of a successful system for divorcing and separating couples in British Columbia called Mylawbc, the Professor explained. This was launched following the withdrawal of legal aid from most family disputes in the Canadian province.

He claimed:

“Their legal aid service is trying to solve the problem creatively rather than bureaucratically. What we have in this country is the most unimaginative way of delivering legal aid you could possibly have, with a body that simply seeks to avoid expenditure”.

Photo by Ervins Strauhmanis via Flickr

Stowe Family Law Web Team

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