If you are thinking about divorce in Ohio, it may be worth your time to consider agreements that you can make out of court to keep conflict and legal costs low. Today, with careful use of alternative dispute methods, you may be able to create satisfying divorce agreements without as much, or any, reliance on the court.
As an attorney and guardian ad litem, my goal is to get parents to make the best decisions for their kids.
After all, the parents (not the judges or lawyers) are the ones in the best position to know what that is. Whether they are going through an initial custody case, like in a divorce or paternity action, or if they are seasoned litigators who can’t seem to stay out of family court — getting parents on the same page can be a monumental accomplishment when you are dealing with different personalities, preferences, and parenting styles. After all, if the parents were good at this, they wouldn’t be in court.
Our Family Wizard
For several years now, I have suggested the parenting program, Our Family Wizard, to try to alleviate some of the communication issues I often see in custody and visitation cases. It is a program that puts all communications and information about a child in a central location for the parents. As a guardian ad litem, I have recommended it to get parents to use the same calendar and to have a localized place for sharing medical information, events, and messages. As a divorce and custody attorney, this program allows me to connect to my client’s account and retain messages and communications between the parents. There is also a “tone-meter” that ourfamilywizard.com describes as an “emotional spell-check” for your messages. It is an ad-on, but it seems like a good idea for parties who tend to get heated over email and text.
This program is not cheap, though. A year subscription currently runs each parent $99.00. And after all of my recommendations, I have had just a handful of clients actually use it, and I have never heard any feedback about whether the parents continued to use it, whether it actually helped to address some of the issues, or if it was worth the subscription.
Then recently I was participating in an informal settlement meeting with two parents and an attorney. I was there as the guardian ad litem for the parties’ children. After working out some of the heftier issues – whether they could continue shared parenting and whether the parenting time should change – the weeds started to take over. One parent was upset that the insurance cards for the children had not been shared. The other parent got caught up in how they should divide the Christmas holiday. Then the dreaded issue of braces for one of the children came up and we spent a good deal of time trying to figure out how much the bill was, how much each parent owed, how to change the payment plan, and how to keep track of it all.
If the parties can try to plan ahead, share information with each other (and not through the kids), and organize their finances regarding the children, these problems can be addressed. These issues just seem overwhelming because they are layered in judgment, assumptions, and emotional responses. So here again, I asked the parties if they would be willing to try Our Family Wizard. After explaining how it might be beneficial, both parents liked the idea but seemed unwilling due to the cost. Children are expensive enough, and now they each have costs related to litigation.
I suggested that I could research some calendaring apps, which might not have all of the functionality of Our Family Wizard, but could be used as a cost-effective substitute. I ended up finding out a lot — here are my experiences trying out several co-parenting apps on my iPhone:
2houses – on par with Our Family Wizard and slightly less expensive
When I went to this app, it was available for download for free. However, once you login, you are notified that you are using the the program through a free 14-day trial. I visited the website, 2houses.com, which indicates the pricing for a family is $9.99/month when paid for a full year. So, this option would be slightly less expensive than Our Family Wizard, but the parties will have to agree on how to divide that costs.
2houses appears to have a lot of the same features as Our Family Wizard, and is very user friendly, organized, and intuitive. For the parents I described above, this app would manage their schedule, expenses (and percentage of costs/payments for each), and the children’s medical information. Parents can upload pictures into albums or document folders and can keep track of their communications. 2houses also sends out emails with parenting tips and help with using the app.
The only downfall I could find in my limited use was that there was not an option for reminders or notifications to pop up on your phone. I might be overlooking this function, so if I find it later, I will update this review.
AppClose – overall best choice due to its features and cost (free!)
I overlooked this app at first because I didn’t think it had anything to do with parenting. It turned out to be my top choice for the parents in my example above. First, it’s free. Second, it’s very user friendly and has most of the features to address common parenting disputes. It keeps track of messages and shows you the latest when you open the app. The shared calendar provides schedule templates, with descriptions like “Alternating weeks” and an explanation of how that schedule is followed. Parents can use a template with specified days/times and apply it to one or more children, or have the option to customize the entire parenting time schedule. Parents have the ability to create events, notify family members, and create reminders. Parents can request a parenting time trade or drop off/pick up change in the app. The reimbursement request has an option to attach an image and allows parents to keep track of their share of the expense and payments that are made.
This app includes a place to keep important, detailed information about each child, but parents will need to do some customization when it comes to organizing that information. I found this app easy to navigate and fairly intuitive after getting accustomed to it. This would be the best alternative to the subscription services mentioned above.
Also, this app, available at appclose.com, has a separate side for attorneys to communicate with clients and accept electronic payments.
Fayr – might be a better “custody tracker” than co-parenting tool
This app is interesting. The download is free, but again, it involves a 14-day trial. The subscription option is $4.99/month. The application is very nicely designed and walks you through the setup fairly easily. There is a shared calendar and messaging system. I did not find anywhere to enter or share detailed information about the child. However, it does have a “check-in” system that uses the phone’s gps to create a time entry of where the parent is at a specific time. This might be a nice feature if late pick ups or drop offs are the main source of conflict, or if manipulation of or interference with parenting time is an issue. This seems to be more of a tool for litigation than for co-parenting, though.
SharedCare – not a bad option, especially for families co-parenting outside of the U.S.
This app is available for $3.99 and can be downloaded at sharedcare.net.au. It provides a shared calendar, location for basic health information, recording of expenses, and shared messages. Parents enter their parenting time schedule under what is called a “Care Plan” but it does not have the option to list specific times for drop off/pick up. Expenses can be entered, but cannot be edited. There is a nice “report” function that will send an expense report to your email with one click.
After creating my sample account, and entering information like the child’s profile and sample expenses, when I revisited those areas later, the information I entered was missing. Since some of the reviews I read said the app was prone to glitches, I sent a message to the app’s support email and had a response within a half hour. I have not had any other issues and the support tech explained that an update would be coming, so hopefully my glitch would not be a concern (although losing information is the worst and if it happened again, I would not recommend this app). Also, because this app appears to be used in a number of different countries, some of the terminology might be confusing and it doesn’t seem intuitive in some areas.
Co-Parent Central – not exactly the one-stop-shop the name suggests
This is a free app that only provides a shared calendar service. Parents can create their parenting time calendar by using a pre-set template, or customizing the days. However, entering specific times for pick up /drop off is not an option. Parents can create events with notifications, and request exchanges of time with the other parent through the app.
If calendaring is all that is needed, this app might be an option, but with other free applications available that do more, it doesn’t seem that useful.
Kiganzier & Custody Connection
Two apps that also came up in my searches were Kidganizer ($1.99) and Custody Connection (free for 30 days). These both created notifications upon download and opening that the app would slow down my phone and the developer needed to update the app. The interface of both appeared outdated, so I don’t recommend them.
I would also suggest that parents be wary of other apps that are not designed for sharing information, but designed primarily for tracking it (i.e. litigation preparation). If you are serious about co-parenting, I recommend that parents try to peel away the layers of emotions that surround a conflict, try not to make assumptions about the other parent’s behavior or their motivations, and just try to figure out what steps can be taken to prevent the specific disagreement at hand. In the end, there may not be an app for that, but I can’t see a downside in trying one out.
For help with a child custody matter, meet with a skilled Ohio family law attorney at Seif & McNamee today. From our offices in Waverly and Chillicothe, we serve individuals and families throughout the state.