Australian Authorities Want an AI To Settle Your Divorce

Photo: Leon Neal, Getty Images
Photo: Leon Neal, Getty Images

For better or worse, there’s a good chance your current love life owes something to automation. Even if you’re just hooking up with the occasional Tinder fling (which if you are, no judgment), you’re still turning to Tinder’s black-box algorithms to pick out that fling for you before turning to more black-box algorithms to pick out the best dingy bar to meet them at before turning to more black-box algorithms to figure out what, exactly, should be your date night lewk. If things get serious further down the line, you might turn to another black-box algorithm to plan your entire damn wedding for you.

And if it turns out you got married for all the wrong reasons, it turns out there’s another set of black boxes you can plug your details into to settle the details of your divorce. Known as “amica,” the service was rolled out yesterday by the Australian government as a way to let soon-to-be-exes “make parenting arrangements” and “divide their money and property” without having to go through the hassle of hiring a lawyer to do the heavy lifting.

As Australian AG Christian Porter said regarding the rollout, Australia’s federal government “is committed to improving the family law system to make the system faster, simpler, cheaper and much less stressful for separating couples and their children.”

The rollout, frankly, couldn’t have come sooner. While most couples in the US have weathered months of isolated bunkering just fine, it’s left more and more Australian couples reconsidering their romantic partners, according to a survey from earlier this month. And while we’re still waiting to see how many of these rocky relationships will actually be broken off, the truth is that even a slight uptick might be too much: Australia’s family court system is notoriously overburdened, and the country’s lockdown turned what was already a hamstrung system into one that might be facing more cases than it can handle. According to Porter, amica is supposed to not only make divorces easier on the families involved, but also to ease up the pressure on these courts.

For a project as expensive as amica is — local authorities reportedly dumped about $3 million dollars — its own site barely describes how its asset-dividing magic actually works. As they describe it:

amica uses artificial intelligence to make suggestions about dividing your money and property based on the information that you enter. The artificial intelligence considers legal principles and applies them to your circumstances.

If you and your partner both agree with the division suggested by amica, you have the flexibility to work out between yourselves how you would like to put the division into effect. For example, will you sell the house? Will one of you buy out the other?

In other words, comparing your case against the sorts of resolutions reached in similar cases by similar sorts of couples that have severed ties in the past, this AI system should be able to suggest how you might want to, say, divvy up child support or alimony payments.

Try as they might, engineers still haven’t cracked an algorithm that can accurately parse apart how messy and volatile the average person’s emotions can be — an issue that, as you might expect, might get blown up in the case of a messy, volatile, or violent divorce. This is probably why, at least according to the press release Australian authorities put out, amica is a service that’s meant for couples “whose relationship is relatively amicable” — just as its name suggests.

But because the amica website is so light on details, what “amicable” means is really up for interpretation. What if one side of the couple is pissed off about the arrangements, but too afraid of confrontation to speak their mind? What if they both agree on everything except who should get the dog? What if they’re both cordial in person, but turn into absolute shitposting monsters devoid of sympathy when they’re behind a screen? There’s just so many factors that go into any relationship — or the end of any relationship — that it might be virtually impossible for an AI system to predict what might be best for every couple every single time.

For Aussie couples that want to give it a shot anyway, the feature is 100% free to use — at least for now. Starting January of next year, couples will be charged “a nominal fee” between $165 and $440. It might be cheaper than your average divorce lawyer, but considering how AI’s across every industry inevitably end up falling short at some point or another, this might be a case of getting what you pay for.