By Sophia Reuss
When Darren Gingras launched Common Sense Divorce in 2010, his aim was simple: help people more easily navigate the messy, protracted, emotionally taxing process that too often results in financial devastation. Common Sense Divorce would offer a one-stop shop where a team of financial professionals, mediators, dispute resolution experts, and lawyers would work together to smooth the waters and develop a mutually beneficial divorce agreement. The result would save people exorbitant legal fees and hopefully help reduce the acrimony that so often derails the process.
It was a forward-thinking idea, and the company’s commitment to innovation has continued. Gingras explains that recently his team started asking questions about how technology could be leveraged to assist the divorce process. Was it possible to predict a couple’s divorce agreement based on precedent? Was there a better way to resolve disputes? Could emerging technologies be used to ask clients better questions and improve communication? In 2016, they decided to find out, partnering with IBM and the National Research Council of Canada to launch a technology arm of their company, SIËSDE Dispute Resolution Technologies.
The A.I. Difference
Six months later, they have completed research and development, and SIËSDE is moving into the implementation phase and has started working with IBM’s artificial intelligence platform, Watson.
Gingras explains how Watson might be used to develop better divorce agreements by giving the example of parenting plans.
“In the traditional family law system, Mom goes into her lawyer and says she wants the kids Wednesday through Sunday, and Dad says he wants the kids Friday through Tuesday, and they both dig into their positions and they start duking it out from there,” Gingras says.
Watson would rationalize the process by asking questions and collecting data about parents’ respective work schedules, types of work, bedtimes, and living arrangements, as well as children’s school schedules, bedtimes, and extracurricular activities, to generate a schedule that works for everyone. By changing the initial question set – from “what days do you want the kids?” to questions about the parents’ and children’s lives – the program helps provide a more objective standpoint from which both parties can negotiate.
SIËSDE will also be able to predict success rates for certain settlements. “Watson will allow us to look at previous settlements and say, well in the past when these kinds of parents came through with these particular circumstances, we had a 73% success rate. What Watson also allows us to do is look at other clients who did almost the same thing but had an 82% success rate,” Gingras says. Mediators can then analyze the differences between the two cases – “it might have been a willingness for parents to go to hockey games together,” Gingras notes – and use this information to make a better agreement.
SIËSDE is also using Watson to develop technologies that analyze the tone and emotion of written data in legal documents and agreements. This will allow them to make adjustments to the documentation to evoke better responses and outcomes. “Where this becomes really interesting,” Gingras says, “is we take an agreement and people respond to it better because it’s not fundamentally negative to begin with.”
This technology can also be used to help parents communicate better. “Parents can choose to run their communications through the same software, and it will take what are fundamentally negative emails or texts and change the text to a more positive emotional tone, thus bringing down the drama between parents,” Gingras explains.
Divorce will always be difficult, but Gingras anticipates further improvements to the process as SIËSDE continues to pioneer dispute resolution technologies. Using technology to enhance communication, prioritize kids’ schedules, and write agreements? For Gingras, that’s just common sense.