April 01, 2018 Custody

Child Custody Innovations for Family Lawyers: The Future Is Now

By: Linda S. Smith, Ph.D. & Eric Frazer, Psy.D.

I. Introduction

There are currently 1,512 legal tech start-up companies with an average valuation of four million dollars, including the very first artificial intelligence legal technology, ROSS, developed by IBM’s Watson Cognitive Computing Platform. These innovative legal tech solutions improve the efficiency and effectiveness of legal services for both businesses and consumers alike. However, they are also disruptive in that they introduce a maelstrom of radical economic and practical change from the law office to the courtroom. Growing market forces have rapidly allowed legal technology companies to evolve from distant insignificant entities off in Silicon Valley to fierce local business competitors with substantial financial investments.

Parallel to this legal technology explosion are the market forces that are having a similarly momentous impact on family law, albeit a more pernicious one. Family law graduates are struggling to secure jobs, and family lawyers must work more hours now to earn revenues comparable to those achieved in past decades. Grievances are plentiful, with complaints often falling in the areas of communication and diligence. Self-represented litigants are on the rise, and legislation is passing across the country to allow nonlawyer specialists to serve some of the growing needs of the litigant community. Market forces are speaking forcefully to the family law community, and the answer to one critical question will determine the fate of family law: Will family lawyers listen and appropriately respond to the current tidal wave of market forces?

Family law distinguishes itself by requiring a unique level of proficiency in a wide range of substantive issues in law, finance, and child psychology. Child custody is to be awarded based on best-interest factors, which vary by state—although common factors such as the needs of the children,  the parenting capacities of each parent, and the mental health of all involved parties are generally consistent from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Underlying the “best-interests” lexicon are psychological issues such as child development, parent–child relationships, co-parenting, domestic violence, and other aspects of parenting and parenting conflict. The majority of disagreements—contested and uncontested alike—are skewed towards psychological issues associated with child custody and parenting plans.

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