Relate puts pioneering online divorce project on hold

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The Relate project to launch the first English online dispute resolution system for divorcing and separating couples has been put on hold. The new system, originally developed by a Californian firm with the help of family lawyers from Resolution, was based on the pioneering Dutch Rechtwijzer system, but has not been supported by government funding. Relate says that the service has now been tested with clients, and that they have gained a lot of insight about what would be needed to further customise it, but that they aren’t able progress the project without additional funding.

Professor Roger Smith, former director of Justice, has said it would be a “total waste” if the Relate project was abandoned and criticised the government, suggesting that it was “not interested in dealing imaginatively with problems of access to justice”.

Graham Ross, head of the Californian firm, Modria, which helped develop Rechtwijzer, said some online services claimed to offer ODR when all they were providing was web conferencing.and that it was necessary to use technology as an access point or a medium for real-time discussion. He explained that the Rechtwijzer takes users through a “logical series of questions”, allowing them “to better frame what their case is about”. He said data analytics could be used to highlight the type of settlements couples preferred, and technology was “very good” at helping people prioritise – particularly where they were locked in “emotional” property disputes.

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