Artificial Intelligence and Family Law: The Good And The Questionable

by | Jun 13, 2023 | Family Law

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a popular topic these days as new programs and applications become available to the public. What was mere science fiction yesterday has become the reality of today.

Proponents of this technology point to the incredible benefits it can bring to human welfare in general. As an example, researchers at MIT recently used AI to discover a new medicine that can counter certain bacteria strains that up to now have been drug-resistant. The main value, we are told, is that AI is able to consume and correlate vast amounts of information at speeds (and accuracy) that are greater than any human mind can achieve, and at a fraction of the cost. Faster, better, cheaper: this is the mantra of AI advocates.

Many others are concerned about the direction AI could go in the future. Some of their concerns are socio-economic: AI may soon make human workers obsolete in some sectors. Some are more concerned about the security risks: in the wrong hands, AI could access and manipulate sensitive data with disastrous, near-apocalyptic, results.

The debates about AI will likely continue for many years. There are ways that AI can be used productively, though, including in the realm of family law. In this article, we will briefly discuss how AI technology may assist family law attorneys in their work to guide and support their clients, and how the clients can also directly employ AI to assist them as they navigate their situation. We will then highlight a few specific ways that AI falls short and why guidance from experienced attorneys remains, and always will be, a necessary part of family law.

What is artificial intelligence?

Since the mid-1900’s we have become accustomed to computers working for us: we put data in, the computer processes it, and then returns the information to us that we were already looking for.

True artificial intelligence takes that a step further. In a process often called “machine learning” or “deep learning,” instead of merely processing data for a given task, AI is able to collect its own data (including from optical sensors and speech recognizers), correlate it with other available data, and then, based on those correlations, actually make informed decisions. Much like the human mind, AI analyzes if its decisions work or not, and applies that analysis the next time it needs to make a similar decision.

How do family law attorneys use AI?

Technologies to help manage clients, or to search for legal data that is relevant to a specific case, have been available to us for many years. The incorporation of AI programs enhances the capabilities of those technologies, which in turn enables us to serve our clients better.

Some examples of how AI is used include:

  • Discovery. In a divorce case, the process of collecting data (e.g. each spouse’s financial records), can be quite tedious. Moreover, if our client has not been the primary bookkeeper of the family, they may not even know where to look to gather account information. Furthermore, if there is a suspicion that the spouse is hiding assets or liabilities, it may take considerable time and careful scrutiny to uncover that information.

AI technology can streamline that process considerably. At a minimum, it can search more broadly to find important data that the client themselves may not be aware of. It can also digest that data and find anomalies that may indicate asset hiding. Those “breadcrumbs” would likely be discoverable anyway, but AI can ensure they are discovered quickly and flag them for our attorneys to pursue, thus saving time and costs to the client.

Similarly, AI can analyze draft settlement agreements (or other contractual documents) and quickly find discrepancies, areas of missing or obscured information, or points that unfairly favor one party or the other.

  • Research. Our attorneys can spend hours researching statutes and case law to see how they might inform their current client’s case. AI can assist in the initial process of this, and on a much broader scale. It is important to note that our experienced attorneys always handle the analysis and application of the research to our client’s specific case, highlighting the most pertinent information to ensure keen strategy and accuracy at the highest level. 
  • Document preparation. AI can take the data of the case, extract what is necessary, and preliminarily write the rough draft of the document for review by our attorneys. It also works the other way around: When documents are being finalized for submission, AI can proofread them and ensure that no content or grammatical details are overlooked.

The primary benefit that we see of using these technologies is the way they may be utilized as a tool to support our overall strategy and client care.

How can I use AI in my divorce or child custody case?

AI should be used as a tool to bring data points forward to help with collaboration on ideas and discussion points with your attorney. Using AI alone will have drawbacks. We caution and advise against using AI tools such as ChatGPT without the guidance of legal counsel. 

There are some ways that tools and apps may help facilitate balanced co-parenting in child custody cases, that may benefit divorcing couples. These applications often include shared calendars and contacts, documents and photos, and they provide a communication platform between the parents that can be monitored by third parties (attorneys) if necessary. One benefit of AI to these applications is their real-time interactions on their communication platforms. Sometimes, a parent may write a text message in the heat of the moment and use emotionally charged or inflammatory rhetoric. The AI engine in the app will analyze text messages first for such language, and alert the sender of its presence and suggest changes. Not only does an action like this help keep the conflict level lower between the parents, but if their communications ever need to be submitted in a court proceeding (which the apps can also do), the impression of the court will not be jaundiced against the sender.

If there are suspicions of infidelity or violation of child custody agreements, AI-enabled tracking software can also be used to monitor social media platforms or GSP location services and alert you to any suspicious activity, so long as such actions are in compliance with court orders (it is important to speak with legal counsel before any such monitoring occurs as it may violate statutes and court orders in certain instances). Some police departments are also using AI analytics to discover behavioral patterns that may indicate a tendency towards domestic violence, which may then be used to assist in obtaining restraining orders or other protections for the victims.

What limitations does AI have in family law cases?

It is well known already that AI is capable of generating its own, false information. For instance, “deep fake” engines can generate images and videos of people saying or doing things they never said or did. Perhaps the biggest limitation of AI is that while it can read the lines, it cannot read “between the lines.” As of now, it is not capable of digesting full environmental or situational contexts – important factors in any family law case.

There are several cases, where the use of AI has led agencies and other lawyers into hot water. Recently, a New York lawyer has been disciplined due to the use of research provided by ChatGPT in a case. Unfortunately, the cases, citations, and judicial decisions were made up. What many don’t realize, is that AI research and content platforms such as ChatGPT and Vertex AI may not use real-time data, and, as in the case above, offer inaccurate information all-together.

At our family law firm of Hoover Krepelka, we believe that our experience and human interaction cannot be replaced by a machine. So while using AI may help as a supplementary tool, you can be assured that our attorneys will always focus their attention on you, our client, and the accurate application of the law. Contact us today, and receive the highly personalized legal help that you need.

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*The above is not meant to be legal advice, and every case is different. Feel free to reach out to us at Hoover Krepelka, LLP, if you have any questions. Information contained in this content and website should not be relied on as legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice on your specific situation. 

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