Digital justice in family law

This project aims at investigating the practices and challenges associated with the shift to digital justice during the Covid-19 pandemic in family proceedings in Switzerland with a special focus on separations and divorces.

  • Project description

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    The impact of the pandemic has been drastic in family law with many individuals caught up in the middle of a critical family crisis. In particular, separating and divorcing individuals with children experienced increased vulnerability both materially and emotionally, with detrimental yet differentiated consequences for mothers, fathers and children.

    Thus, the shift to digital justice in civil proceedings was a solution to deal with emergency cases and avoid major delays, which was key in preventing a deterioration in family circumstances. In this context, judges and lawyers were at the frontline and had to quickly adapt their practices to find solutions acceptable to all parties. Indeed, this shift also carries the risk of making access to justice more difficult for vulnerable populations.

  • Background

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    The shift to digital justice has been boosted by the pandemic, but it is part of a larger and longer transformation of the justice system and, more globally, of Swiss society. To avoid delays and deal with emergency cases, the Swiss Federal Council opened up the use of remote hearings in civil proceedings (RS 272.81). While digital justice holds several advantages (e.g. speed, cost reduction), it also raises a number of practical and ethical concerns (e.g. technology, confidentiality).

  • Aim

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    The aim of this project is to investigate under what conditions digital proceedings can ensure access to justice for separating and divorcing couples with children under 18 during a major social crisis such as the Covid-19 pandemic and mitigate the increased risk of gender and social inequalities. The focus will be on gender and social inequalities related to access to justice, child visiting and physical custody arrangements, and maintenance payments to children and ex-spouses.

  • Relevance

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    This project will contribute to research on digital family justice, with a focus on factors enhancing/hindering access to justice in a time of crisis, and the risk of increased gender and social inequalities. It will uncover the learning process at stake for practitioners in the context of a global shift towards the digitalisation of justice. Finally, it will contribute to the sociology of family law in unveiling how the practice of law during a crisis plays a part in institutional doing gender.

  • Application

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    This project will suggest amendments to the Swiss civil procedure code (with a legal report) to ensure fair access to digital justice in family law. It will develop training modules for continuing education on the digitalisation of family justice, which will benefit practitioners. Finally, it will identify the risks of digital justice for social and gender inequalities.

  • Original title

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    The practice of family law during the Covid-19 pandemic: digital justice and gender inequalities