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Blockchain and Divorce – Mission Possible?

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Do you believe in love on the blockchain? Diamonds are forever, and so is the blockchain.

Marriage is an institution with a long history, but technologists want to totally change how it works in the future. For them, that means blockchain.

The first blockchain marriage took place in 2014, when entrepreneur David Mondrus married his fiancée at a private Bitcoin conference at Disney World in Orlando, Florida. The guests of Joyce and David’s wedding were given a QR code showing the transaction where their marriage data was stored.And last November, Lukas Götz, CEO of the Austrian startup block42, married using the first smart wedding contract in the German speaking world.

A blockchain is a publicly distributed ledger that verifies transactions and records events. Every new transaction creates a block with a cryptographic hash and timestamp, building a chain of verified information. This disruptive technology can be applied in many fields such as finance, healthcare, supply chain management and, not surprisingly, in the legal sector. It can revolutionise our whole perception of how contracts are administered and executed. 

Divorce isn’t a pleasant thing. The process is complicated, both emotionally and administratively. That is why Lukas Götz from Graz has decided to take the bold step of executing a smart wedding contract. 

A smart contract is a computer protocol that digitally facilitates or enforces the negotiation or performance of a contract. The transaction happens without third parties and is irreversible. The concept was first described in 1993 by computer scientist and cryptographer Nick Szabo as a kind of digital vending machine. The self-executing element makes such contracts an important part of the digital revolution we’ve witnessed in the last couple of years.

The smart wedding contract Lukas Götz and his fiancée used is based on the Ethereum blockchain. The spouses have an Ethereum wallet which gives them access to the contract, anytime, anywhere.

According to Götz, there are many benefits of such contracts. Firstly, unlike paper-based contracts, smart contracts are adaptable and can be managed during the marriage. Assets like property  or stocks are tokenized and can be added or removed easily. The dynamics of this option offers flexibility which is currently almost impossible, or at least very time-consuming. 

Transparency is the next key element of the so-called smart wedding contracts. Every change is recorded automatically by the system. In this way, the  focus is on clarity of asset management, which could have an immense importance in future court or out-of-court sittings.

Another essential part of the smart wedding contract is that the divorce function can be invoked only by the spouses. Once they have decided to trigger it, all assets are divided automatically. Time-consuming divorce negotiations and court proceedings will be history.

Nevertheless, a meeting with a notary will remain necessary. The current Austrian legislation still requires a written physical document that makes a contract binding and enforceable. Only in that way a court could make a judgment in a legal case with regards to the wedding contract.

Attorneys from the Austrian law firm Stadler Völkel assisted in a pilot of this process. They created a common marriage contract which was enhanced by referencing  smart wedding contract. As Mag. Urim Bajrami from Stadler Völkel puts it:

“This pilot shows what’s possible in the field of smart contracts – today and in the near future. There are many different questions concerning blockchain-based contracts. Smart contracts have the power to replace written contracts. The terms are deterministically coded and can – in case of certain circumstances trigger concrete actions. That means that a smart wedding contract is self-executing. That leads to an optimised legal certainty for the affiliates. Smart contracts will revolutionise the daily legal business of the future!”

Lukas Götz and his team hope that anytime soon the smart wedding contract will be a legally binding document and the digital will take the lead over the physical. 

But, in some countries, the future is almost here.According to public record data from Washoe County in the US state of Nevada, the region recorded over 950 blockchain marriages in 2018. And, somewhat  unsurprisingly, county officials are also recording birth certificates using the technology.

The County Recorder’s Office is also collaborating with the start-up Titan Seal from Nevada to develop a blockchain-based system for the digitalisation of marriage certificates. Currently it takes about five to seven business days to receive a certified copy of your marriage license, but with this new project it could be in your inbox  within minutes of your request.

For better or worse, til’ death do us part, because the blockchain is forever”, says David Mondrus. And we couldn’t agree more. 

Slavina Petrova

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