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Technology and Family Law: Friend or Foe?

It is undeniable that technology has irrevocably changed family law in Australia. It has changed the way people enter into relationships, end their relationships and pursue matters through the courts. Technology continues to evolve and change the way we gather and present evidence following the breakdown of a relationship and has increased the resources available to individuals to access the law.

Applications on iPhone and Android devices are helping to make the law accessible to everyone.  In the privacy of your own home, without the commitment of retaining a lawyer, Australians are able to access free resources in a confidential manner. Many of these applications have been created with a focus on family violence. Given the sensitive nature of these matters many applications disguise themselves with misleading names and logos so that individuals can feel safe downloading them onto their phone. These applications are aimed at the general population with easy to understand text to make the legal process less daunting. Individuals are able to gain a greater understanding of their options and after a short questionnaire can be triaged and referred to the appropriate services.

These applications aim to empower individuals with information regarding the law and their options. If they do decide to pursue a legal avenue, initial client meetings become more productive as clients are aware of what documents to bring and what information is relevant. If applications are triaging clients to appropriate organisations it takes pressure off under-resourced community legal centres and government services. Examples of applications that are currently available include SmartSafe+ and Daisy for those in Victoria and Aurora for those in NSW. There are also applications to help clients with issues that fall outside of the legal sphere but often arise concurrently, such as financial matters and general wellness. Penda helps users achieve financial security when experiencing family violence and Emergency+ aids emergency services find your exact location when emergency services are called. Gather My Crew helps coordinate support systems in times of need such as through a legal dispute.

These technological advances can be used to take pressure off the legal system and help deliver a holistic service to individuals involved in legal disputes and although the positives are irrefutable technology also comes with its concerns.

Social media has become an extremely contentious factor in family disputes. It is becoming evident that it is often the catalyst for the breakdown of relationships. A UK website that offers divorces online found in 2011 that a third of all their divorce filings contained the word Facebook. Similarly, one in seven people polled by Slater and Gordon in the UK found that they had considered divorcing their partners due to their activity on Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter amongst other social media sites. Social media continues to be problematic when the asset pool and custody arrangements are in dispute following the breakdown of the relationship. Financial indicators can be gathered from photos and information shared on social media and presented as evidence in court. As can photos of new or past relationships and possible parenting concerns.

It is not all bad, social medias powers can be used for good. 19,000 Americans who were married between 2005 and 2012 were surveyed and it was found that more than a third of these marriages begun online. Location services imbedded in social media platforms and electronic devices can also be used to help locate and recover missing children. Courts are also recognising that technology can be used to give parents greater access to their children, with facetime and skype provisions now being common practice in parenting orders. New legislation is also utilising technology. The Family Violence Protection Amendment Act 1 (2017) has now made alternative service available through social media platforms including Facebook messenger.

As technology evolves at such a rapid rate it will continue to enhance and challenge the family law system and change the way legal disputes move through the courts.

 

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