Educational Resources

Artificial Intelligence: Changing the Face of Family Law? 

Written by Russell Alexander ria@russellalexander.com / (905) 655-6335

Some of us will remember Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey. The film opens with a giant monolith place in the desert and a subsequent epic reaction by what is assumed to be our under evolved selves. It quickly fast forwards to the age of interstellar space travel where there is the black and red machine, Hal 9000, who aids the astronauts on their journey.

In the years since that film was first screened, the concept of Artificial Intelligence (or AI) has become a reality.  In the first of a multi-part series, we explore how AI is changing the practice of Family Law, and the role of lawyers in particular.

Will artificial intelligence (AI) replace Family Lawyers? In this special series, “30 Days of AI”, we examine the evolution of AI and the potential impact for clients, family lawyers and legal commentary.  By publishing legal content generated by AI we aim to gauge its effectiveness through user experience and commentary. It will be interesting to test the AI and determine if the answers and commentary generated remain static or evolve in time.

What is AI?

Before we launch in, it’s important to understand what AI really is, and what it can do in the legal system specifically.

As with all other computer-based frameworks, AI starts with various software programs/ processes, computations, and automated systems that: 1) analyze data, and 2) infer the probability of the outcome.  At its simplest, an AI-based system allows users to input questions into some sort of computer user interface, and then it responds with appropriate answers.

But what is novel (and remarkable) about AI, is that with increased and more frequent use, the computer system starts to “tailor” and predictively fine-tune its responses, based on prior input and interactions.

In other words:  It has the capacity to learn as it goes.

How Can AI Impact the Legal System?

When applied to the Canadian justice system, AI can take many potential forms, and its benefits can be seen in a wide range of areas. For example, when applied to Family Law specifically, it can look like:

  • A computer platform that answers litigants’ simple questions about their legal dispute, provides them with legal information and tools, and then directs them to the appropriate online application form.
  • An algorithm that guides litigants to proposed legislation and caselaw-based solutions to their legal problems, drawn partly from information found on Canadian government websites.
  • An interface that allows clients to do some of their document-drafting and preparation, for filing with the court.
  • A guided question-and-answer form, that allows couples to draft their own valid separation agreement.
  • An interactive dispute-resolution framework, that facilitates negotiation and mediation between separated and divorcing couples, through a guided questionnaire.

These are just a few examples, from among many.  Of course, AI is not intended to replace lawyers, judges, or mediators entirely. It’s merely one computer-based tool among many new strategies for streamlining some of the processes that have bogged down the justice system in the past.  And there’s also hope that in the long run, the use of AI will provide litigants with more affordable options, and will increase the efficiency of the system as a whole.

Like the Hal 9000, AI is a tool that can elevate the work of humans. However, time will soon tell if it is something we should fear or if we are merely programmed to be afraid of what could come from the uncertainty of this new technology.

In our next installment in the series, we will take a look at the interesting and novel question of whether AI can – or ever should – replace the work that Family lawyers currently do for their clients.

Stay in Touch

Keep learning about the latest issues in Ontario family law! Subscribe to our newsletter, have our latest articles delivered to your inbox, or listen to our Podcast Family Law Now.

Be sure to find out more about the "new normal", by visiting our Covid-19 and Divorce Information Centre.

About the author

Russell Alexander

Russell Alexander is the founder of Russell Alexander Collaborative Family Lawyers and is the firm’s senior partner. At Russell Alexander, our focus is exclusively family law, offering pre-separation legal advice and assisting clients with family related issues, including: custody and access, separation agreements, child and spousal support, division of family property, paternity disputes, and enforcement of court orders. We have locations in Toronto, Markham, Whitby (Brooklin), Oshawa, Concord, Lindsay, and Peterborough.

For more information, visit our website, or you can call us at: 905-655-6335.