Running Your Own Family Law Case? The Risks Of Relying On ChatGPT


The last ten years have seen a marked increase in the number of Litigants in Person (LIP). Although there is some support available, for example, the Handbook for Litigants in Person, which was published in 2013 to explain the various stages of a civil case, it is 170 pages long and likely to be highly intimidating for many people who represent themselves in the Family Court. LIPs are increasingly turning to AI tools like ChatGPT to manage family law proceedings. Often driven by financial constraints or a desire for independence, LIPs are leveraging AI technology to draft documents, prepare arguments, and to clarify legal questions.

However, while ChatGPT can provide structured arguments and submissions which include case law and statutes, it carries significant risks for those who rely on it without the oversight of a Family Law Solicitor. In 2023, in the Harber Tax Tribunal decision, the presiding judge noted that Ms Harber relied upon nine invented cases which appeared to support her appeal. The judge expressed concern about the time and costs that had been wasted in searching for cases that did not exist. She noted that this wasted time would reduce "the resources available to progress the cases of other court users waiting for their appeals to be determined".

Why Litigants in Person Are Using ChatGPT

There are several reasons ChatGPT appeals to LIPs. For many, cost is a significant factor. Legal fees can be substantial, and little legal aid is available for family law matters. An AI tool that offers free or low-cost answers can seem like an attractive solution.

Moreover, the accessibility and convenience of ChatGPT can make it appealing. With a straightforward interface and answers available 24/7, it provides immediate guidance for users struggling with the intricacies of legal terminology and procedures. Its ability to offer plain-language explanations allows people who lack a legal background to understand the law better, potentially empowering them to feel more confident and informed.

What are the risks of using ChatGPT as a Litigant in Person?

Despite its benefits, using ChatGPT in isolation can pose serious risks. One of the most significant concerns is that AI tools like ChatGPT, while incredibly sophisticated, are not infallible and can sometimes provide 'hallucinations'. In the context of large language models like ChatGPT, hallucinations refer to instances where the model generates information that is incorrect, fabricated, or inconsistent with reality. This phenomenon occurs because the model uses patterns and information from its training data to create text but does not verify facts like a search engine or database. As a result, it might produce:

• Factual Errors: Providing wrong information about well-known facts, like dates, names, or historical events.

• Invented Details: Making up non-existent articles, studies, or statistics that sound plausible.

• Inconsistent Logic: Presenting responses that contradict other information given by the model.

These hallucinations can arise due to limitations in the training data, biases, ambiguities in user prompts, or the inherent challenges of understanding language.

ChatGPT also lacks the practical experience that a Family Law Solicitor has. Family law proceedings can be emotionally charged, requiring not only legal knowledge but also the empathy and strategic foresight that come from years of experience. A Family Law Solicitor can help clients develop approaches that address both the legal and emotional concerns of those involved.

Another concern lies in ChatGPT's ability to interpret the rapidly changing landscape of family law. Legislation, case law, and procedural rules evolve continuously, and keeping up with these changes is essential. While AI can access a vast database of information, what it produces may not always reflect the most up-to-date law.

Additionally, confidentiality and privacy are crucial in family law matters, especially given the sensitive nature of these disputes. An AI tool like ChatGPT operates based on data it has been trained on, and there is always the possibility of data misuse or unintended sharing of personal information. There is no risk of this when instructing a regulated Family Law Solicitor.

Lastly, using ChatGPT without legal help can inadvertently increase the chances of procedural errors. Properly drafted forms and submissions ensure that a case proceeds smoothly through the court system. A Solicitor understands the correct format and timing requirements, but an AI tool might not provide the same level of detail or accuracy, leading to procedural missteps that could delay proceedings, affect the outcome, and/or lead to criticism from the presiding judge.

Why Instructing a Family Law Solicitor Remains Essential

Given these risks, it remains crucial for LIPs to consider instructing a Family Law Solicitor whenever possible. An experienced Solicitor can offer accurate legal advice, emotional support, and strategic guidance. They can help you set realistic expectations, identify potential pitfalls, and develop a plan that protects your interests while minimising stress and conflict.

Moreover, Solicitors are bound by strict regulations enforced by the Solicitors Regulation Authority that safeguard client confidentiality and ensure the advice they provide is always in the client's best interests. Regulated Solicitors have a duty of care to their clients, meaning they will carefully consider each unique aspect of a case when providing advice.

Solicitors also have a thorough understanding of procedural rules and deadlines, which ensures that documentation is accurate and timely. This level of precision minimises procedural errors and allows you to focus on the substantive aspects of your case rather than worrying about paperwork.

Furthermore, regarding negotiations or court appearances, Solicitors are effective advocates who understand how to present evidence and arguments persuasively. They know how to handle opposing counsel, manage expectations, and adapt to unexpected challenges that may arise during the proceedings. This representation can make a significant difference in achieving favourable outcomes, especially in high-stakes disputes involving financial settlements and child arrangements.

If you have any questions regarding this article or need help from a Family Law Solicitor, please call us on 0300 3732424.