The Dutch Legal Aid Board launches an online dispute resolution platform Rechtwijzer « »Uit Elkaar” with HiiL Innovating Justice and Modria.
Press Release from the Dutch Legal Aid Board:
In 2014, over 35,000 marriages ended in divorce – 5 percent more than in 2013. With the recovering housing market, the number of divorces may increase due to housing issues no longer being an obstacle in separations. The social costs of the legal process are substantial, especially for children who are increasingly confronted with the consequences of a divorce. Rechtwijzer ensures a smooth divorce process by facilitating the proper arrangements and keeping the costs of a divorce manageable and transparent – especially if divorcing partners have children.
Proper arrangements for the children
Rechtwijzer is developed to help children and parents manage the profound effect of a divorce. The approach is research-based and focuses on the best ways to go through the divorce process. The platform supports the process of a divorce by structuring all important issues and providing preliminary choices. On Rechtwijzer, partners can work from model agreement texts, where they can jointly or individually work on their parenting plan in their own time. The agreements contain all the issues related to the children, and step-by-step the partners can choose the best possible solutions. This leads to fair and sustainable results in a calm and focused way.
20% high-conflict divorces
Personal contact can cause irritation and hostility whereas communicating through a conflict resolution platform at your own pace may help to make a balanced agreement and avoid escalation. This has a positive influence on the mutual relationship during and after the divorce. This is crucial for the welfare of the children. The effects of a high-conflict divorce are big: they affect a child’s performance at school, and negatively impact their general well-being and future relationships. Divorce lawyers and mediators estimate that approximately 20% of the divorces are high-conflict divorces.
A traditional divorce can be a long-running and expensive process. The Consumers’ Association estimates the legal cost per divorce ranges from € 2,500 to € 3,000. Society also pays for the cost, currently the Dutch government pays approximately over € 100 million per year for legal aid and other legal services. Since the divorce process itself is often unclear, the growing costs are also unclear. As a result, it is an extra source of frustration added upon the difficult process. However, Rechtwijzer makes costs transparent and manageable. A basic divorce plan at Rechtwijzer costs € 390. The deployment of additional legal advisors are determined and costs are fixed as well. Depending on the personal financial situation the Legal Aid Board will reimburse a portion of these costs.
How does Rechtwijzer work?
Rechtwijzer leads to a legally valid divorce with corresponding agreements, for example, division of property, alimentation and visiting arrangements. The platform guides divorcing couples through a new way of separation process by enabling them to draft a joint separation plan online. Partners log in to the platform from their own computers, describe their situation and make proposals for agreements. It is only possible to proceed to the next step if both partners agree with each other. If the partners cannot agree on any one term, there is an option to use a mediator or arbitrator. The divorcing parties can also ask at any time for the help from the contact center. Ultimately, if both parties can agree on the plan, a lawyer will review it to ensure that the agreements are enforceable and fair. It will be submitted to the court. To date, there are more than one hundred couples divorced in this way. Rechtwijzer “Uit Elkaar” is a renewal of the previous version of Rechtwijzer from 2010 when information and referrals were the focus and people received a document to fill in, using it only when in preparation for a meeting with a mediator or lawyer.
The parties behind Rechtwijzer
Rechtwijzer is an initiative of the Council for Legal Aid, HiiL Innovating Justice and Modria, and is subsidized by the Ministry of Security and Justice. The advisory board consists of the Ministry of Security and Justice, the LBIO, Nibud, VFAS, the Bar Association, the Judiciary, the Consumers’ Association, the Legal Counter, the MO group and scientists. Rechtwijzer received an honorable mention from the Council of Europe for the Crystal Scale of Justice in 2015 for innovative legal projects that improve legal services.