Software to ease divorce pains

Software to ease divorce pains

Summary: If you went through a divorce during your life, you know it can be painful. Who will keep the house or the kids? How the money will be distributed? Even if professional mediators are involved, the process can really be unpleasant. According to LiveScience, two programs developed by Australian researchers might help. Their divorce software is designed to handle negotiations. 'Family Winner' and 'Family Mediator' mix 'artificial intelligence, game theory and an electronic or human external mediator to help divorcing couples settle their disputes in a fair and rational manner.' These two programs are only research prototypes at the moment, but the researchers hope they will soon be commercialized.

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If you went through a divorce during your life, you know it can be painful. Who will keep the house or the kids? How the money will be distributed? Even if professional mediators are involved, the process can really be unpleasant. According to LiveScience, two programs developed by Australian researchers might help. Their divorce software is designed to handle negotiations. 'Family Winner' and 'Family Mediator' mix 'artificial intelligence, game theory and an electronic or human external mediator to help divorcing couples settle their disputes in a fair and rational manner.' These two programs are only research prototypes at the moment, but the researchers hope they will soon be commercialized.

The Family Winner inventors

You can see on the left a photo of the 'Family Winner' and 'Family Mediator' inventors (Credit: Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC Online)). Dr. Emilia Bellucci and Professor John Zeleznikow are both working at the Victoria University's Faculty of Business and Law in Melbourne, Australia.

Their 'Family Winner' was reviewed by ABC Online a while ago. Here is a link to this review. For more details, click on the "How it works" tab. Here are some details. "Family Winner is a software package that will assist divorcees to rationally negotiate their disputes. The Family Winner system distributes items in a dispute to those who most desire the given item. Through a series of trade-offs and compensation strategies, disputants can often achieve 70-80% of what they require, rather than the traditional 50-50 approach to resolving disputes. The system takes a rational approach to negotiation and forces disputants to focus upon their interests."

And here is how it really works. "Family Winner asks the disputants to list the items in dispute and to attach importance values (out of 100) to indicate how significant it is that the disputants be awarded each of the items. These main issues are then broken down into sub-issues, again, each with their own value by each disputant. The system uses this information to form trade-off rules to allocate issues according to a strategy of compensation. Upon reaching the lowest level in the hierarchy of issues values (as specified by the disputants), the system mathematically calculates the value of each sub-issue or item with respect to the relative super-issues or items. It does so for each party. Once completed, the system calculates which party is allocated particular sub-issues or items through pair-wise comparisons over the derived values from both parties."

This approach was good enough for material possessions, but it didn't handle well the kids' needs according to the researchers. This is why they've developed their new program, 'Family Mediator.' Here is how LiveScience describes it. "As the name implies, the software relies on a mediator—either a family law practitioner or an electronic decision support system, depending on the requirements of the institution using it—to ensure that decisions reflect the best interests of all involved, including kids."

For more information about this -- sometimes painful -- subject, here are three recommended papers.

  • Managing Negotiation Knowledge: from negotiation support to online dispute resolution (PDF format, 12 pages, 509 KB) (Second International Online Dispute Resolution Workshop, Bologna, Italy, 2005)
  • Building negotiation decision support systems by integrating game theory and heuristics (PDF format, 9 pages, 553 KB) (Proceedings of the IFIP International Conference on Decision Support Systems, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia, 2004)
  • [Here is an excerpt from the abstract.] "Negotiation is considered in general very context sensitive. Since our research laboratory has successfully developed decision support systems in Australian Family Law, we have used our domain expertise to construct a variety of Family Law negotiation support systems. Family Winner uses point allocation and heuristics to advise upon structuring the mediation process and provides solutions based on trade-off and compensation strategies. Heuristic utility functions were developed from cases supplied to us by the Australian Institute of Family Studies. [...] When Family Winner was used in a variety of other negotiation domains (international disputes, enterprise bargaining and company mergers) the advice offered strongly resembled the eventual negotiated outcome."
  • Family Winner: integrating game theory and heuristics to provide negotiation support (PDF format, 10 pages, 41 KB) (Proceedings of Sixteenth International Conference on Legal Knowledge Based Systems, IOS Publications, Amsterdam, Netherlands, 2003)

Sources: Melinda Wenner, Special to LiveScience, July 31, 2007; and various websites

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2 comments
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  • Neal Stephenson

    Essentially proposed this in Cryptonomicon to resolve inheritance disputes. Pretty neat to see it make it into the real world.
    jtmodel
    • Inheritance disputes

      Neal,

      What a treat to see a famous author reading this blog. Just a precision: if you were writing about inheritance disputes, look at Dr. Emilia Bellucci's publications: you'll see she was already working on the subject in 1999.

      Have a good day.
      Roland.
      Roland Piquepaille