Family

Better communication with your ex? There’s an app for that

By Paul Russell, AdvocateDaily.com Contributor

Separated parents can stay in touch about childcare and other issues by simply downloading an app to facilitate that communication, says Toronto family lawyer Julia Tremain.

“These apps are becoming pretty common for parents with kids, especially families who need the extra layer of assistance in terms of accountability,” says Tremain, partner with Waddell Phillips Professional Corporation.

She says some of her clients use the Our Family Wizard app, which allows them to exchange messages outside of their regular email accounts, with all the correspondence saved and tracked.

“If you are searching for what was said on a specific subject, you can find the message trail about that topic and see all the previous discussion,” she tells AdvocateDaily.com. “Best of all, none of the messages can be erased, which can be very helpful if one party is saying nasty things about the other, and these messages end up as evidence in a custody case.”

Third parties, such as lawyers or parenting co-ordinators, can be given access to the account on the app, so they can see first-hand how the communication is going.

“I can log on anytime and see what’s happening with any client using the app, if they have given me permission to do so,” says Tremain. “If that person and their ex-spouse disagree about an issue, I can read the online discussion first-hand, so that my client doesn’t have to explain it to me.”

Third-party access is also helpful in determining if one side is being unreasonable in a debate, she says, adding, “Having that quick access to the discussions between parents can be very helpful to lawyers or anyone involved in parenting decisions.”

The versatility of these online platforms has been welcomed by the justice system, according to an article in Fast Company that focuses on an app called CoParenter.

“Judges consistently ordered (or recommended) the platform five times more than we originally anticipated,” the founder of the app states, explaining that the 5,000 pilot projects for the app resulted in 2,000 parenting plans.

Tremain says a shared calendar feature on these apps is also a valuable tool, as it allows separated parents to see all the scheduled events for the child. She gives the example of the father wanting to make a dentist appointment for the child on a certain day, then looking at the app’s calendar and realizing that mother has marked that the child already has a school field trip on that date.

“As long as both parents make an effort to enter upcoming events into the calendar, this can be a great tool to avoid conflict over scheduling,” she says.

Tremain says a valuable feature is a filter that screens messages before they are sent out, alerting the sender if it contains curse words, inflammatory language or offensive names, before asking the user to reconsider their phrasing.

“Sometimes people do need the chance for sober second thought that these apps provide,” she says. “People can still ignore the warning, but at least they are given a chance to think about their actions.”

These apps can also track shared parenting expenses, and keep accurate reimbursement histories, Tremain says.

The Fast Company article says a unique feature with the CoParenter app is a live chat feature, where the parties can call each other. Tremain says that would be much better than using a regular phone, since the app will record the call, in case what is said needs to be raised in a hearing later.

“When people are having communication difficulties, all the texting and message sharing between parents can be done through these apps, with records kept of all discussions, which should benefit both parties,” she says.

These apps are not free, with basic annual plans for Our Family Wizard starting at $125, but Tremain says that cost, amortized over 12 months, is well worth the money.

“Any technology that helps parents communicate is good, so for most people, purchasing this app is money well spent,” she says.

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