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Divorce Software Designed to Handle Negotiations
By Melinda Wenner, Special to LiveScience
posted: 31 July 2007 09:19 am ET
Divorce is never pleasant, but new software is aimed at making the process a
little less harrowing.
The computer program combines artificial intelligence, game theory and an
electronic or human external mediator to help divorcing couples settle their
disputes in a fair and rational manner—and hopefully with fewer gray hairs.
The new software is a fresh incarnation of a project going back to 2004,
Emilia Bellucci and John Zeleznikow from Victoria University in Australia
developed "Family Winner" to help couples settle divorce disputes by
For example, even if both a husband and wife want to keep the family car,
will probably want it more than the other and will therefore be willing to
accept greater trade-offs in order to get it.
The program, which is based on the game theory concepts developed by
mathematician John Nash, separately asks the husband and wife to "rate"
item by assigning points to each in a way that reflects each item's relative
importance to him or her.
A wife might assign 30 points to the car, for instance, while the husband
might assign only 20, indicating that the car is more important to the wife
to her spouse. In total, each person has 100 points to assign to all of the
items or issues.
The software tallies all the points, creates an initial "trade-off map" and
begins by solving the easiest dispute—the one for which there is the largest
"The result, then, is a direct reflection of the priorities set by the
disputants," Bellucci told LiveScience.
The person who "loses" the first dispute is given extra points to assign to
the remaining issues. The trade-off map is revised and the software moves on
resolve the next "easiest" dispute, continuing on this way until all are
resolved. The idea is to create a "win-win" scenario.
While "Family Winner" successfully met the needs of both husband and wife,
wasn't always fair to the needs of third parties, like children, according
Bellucci and Zeleznikow.
So, to address this problem, they developed new software called "Family
Mediator." As the name implies, the software relies on a mediator—either a
law practitioner or an electronic decision support system, depending on the
requirements of the institution using it—to ensure that decisions reflect
best interests of all involved, including kids.
While neither software application has been commercialized (there are only
research prototypes at the moment), the team hopes that this might soon
"We have applied for a university grant, which if successful will lead as a
by-product to a commercially viable mediation program," Bellucci said. The
software might then be adopted by social service professionals, she added.
And, perhaps not surprisingly, some family lawyers have already expressed
interest in using it, Bellucci said.