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DivorceMate leverages latest technology to meet family law needs

From complex programs installed on clunky desktop computers 30 years ago to cloud-based family law software accessible on a cellphone from a coffee shop, DivorceMate Software Inc. has successfully leveraged technology to meet the needs of lawyers and all users, according to its president Michael Perlman.

“We’ve definitely come a long way since the early days,” he tells AdvocateDaily.com. “Over the years, we’ve never stopped improving and developing our software to keep pace with technological advances. Ultimately, our goal is to make the stressful practice of family law easier and more efficient for our clients through technology.”

This year, DivorceMate celebrates its 30-year anniversary.

Simon Knowles, the company’s senior software developer, has been with DivorceMate almost since the beginning and is one of the chief architects behind its programs. He joined the company as part-time computer support in the fall of 1993 when he was a University of Toronto PhD student finishing his thesis in British history.

He met founder Mark Harris at a law office where Knowles’ ex-wife worked and the two struck up a conversation.

“I was getting interested in computers at that time and Mark invited me to stop by his office if I was looking for a part-time job,” he recalls. “He was looking for someone because the company was starting to grow. Later that year, I ended up doing technical support calls for DivorceMate on pay phones at the U of T campus in-between classes."

“A great deal has changed since those days,” Knowles reflects, with a laugh.

Harris wrote the early versions of the DivorceMate software using Lotus 1-2-3 for MS-DOS and Knowles’ job was to provide tech support to consumers. Later, Knowles began writing the software when MS Windows became available.

“That was a huge change for us around the mid-1990s when we started to move from MS-DOS to Microsoft Windows,” he says. “At that time, there was the huge transition to a graphical user interface from the old DOS text-based commands. With a graphical interface, there was a mouse and icons.

“This immediately brought improved usability for consumers,” Knowles adds. “With the old system, you had to know how to make DOS commands such as F5, but with Windows, we developed a menu that you saw when you first opened the program.

“It listed some of the main Forms and you could click your mouse on the button and it would take you into it. There was a toolbar that you could click on, much like you do on more modern programs. It made the software much easier to use. It was more visual, colourful and interesting.

“It performed the same function and produced the same financial statements as the DOS version, but it did it in a much more pleasing way.”

The next major change occurred in 2001 when DivorceMate dropped its association with Lotus Windows and started programming its own calculations outside of a spreadsheet.

“Until that point, we had to sell Lotus as part of our product, so when someone bought DivorceMate, they were not only buying the spreadsheets we designed, but they also had to purchase Lotus and get it installed,” Knowles explains.

Over the years, computer hardware has changed things dramatically.

“Consumers once required large computers with installed software and now they can do it from anywhere on a handheld device," he says.

Knowles projects that the next major shift is still occurring with the move to the cloud.

“We launched our first cloud product nearly three years ago with DM Tools Cloud, which is a child and spousal support calculator,” he says. “Now we are in the middle of completely revamping our court Forms and Precedents products.”

Knowles advises that the new cloud-based Forms product, DM Forms Cloud, will be launched in beta later this year and users can access them with a web browser from pretty much any device.

“Technology is much more portable these days," he says. "The smartphone of today is far more powerful than large computers were years back. Technology is incredible and that, of course, opens opportunities for software and how you deliver it."

DivorceMate’s future development will promote collaboration for its users over the cloud so lawyers aren’t printing out massive financial statements and emailing the changes back and forth.

“We’re hoping to enhance collaboration between lawyers and other parties who might be concerned with a particular file, such as a mediator or a judge, at some point,” he says.

The goal has always been to make DivorceMate software as user-friendly as possible for law firms while taking advantage of the developing technology. “We made the software so law firms and other users could be as productive as possible,” Knowles explains.

“Ultimately, I think the goal is to bring judges, lawyers, mediators and others together into a centralized system so solving family law matters becomes more efficient.”

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