Topping the list of challenges for divorcing couples is the way communication often breaks down between former spouses. In fact, studies show that communication difficulties are a leading catalyst of separation; these frustrations only become compounded after divorce – even during relatively amicable processes like mediation.
If a couple is in conflict, even simple, day-to-day interactions about household or family logistics can become fraught. The oversight of children’s activities and the allocation of their time also commonly becomes an area where former spouses may battle for a sense of control. This is understandable, given that holding on to one’s relationship with their children is a primary goal—and source of anxiety—for many divorcing parents.
Given the complex schedules and commitments of even our young children, scheduling, custody, and expenses are almost universally complicated for families. (Just ask any parent who stays up late color-coding a shared calendar in an effort to coordinate multiple children’s tutors, medical appointments, music lessons and travel sports schedules—not to mention insurance and school forms.)
Once co-parents no longer live together under the same roof, it can be all too easy for details to slip. But the fact remains: Co-parents, whether married or not, still share expenses and obligations related to the raising of their children. From buying school supplies, to researching childcare options, to advocating for therapies or academic support, to arranging transport to extracurricular activities, to staying on top of pediatrician and dental visits, soliciting play dates, and shopping for birthday parties—the ticker tape of the parental to-do list never stops.
Throw in two households, and all the good intentions and helpful technology in the world will still fail to meet the family’s needs. Even when children’s activities are carefully noted and communicated, details get forgotten or lost in translation. In many marriages, one spouse often assumes the role of carrying the mental load. The resentment this engenders is often mentioned as a driving force of marital strife and can be a cause of divorce. A divorcing couple may therefore seek to share their parental obligations more equitably, evening the playing field, and ensuring each parent plays a significant role in their children’s lives.
Tech developers have tapped into this need.
There are now a growing number of new apps that help to organize and facilitate communication around scheduling, custody and finances, geared specifically toward divorced families. These apps can be particularly helpful when day-to-day interactions between former partners have a tendency to devolve into states of hostility or conflict. The apps even enable you to loop in an objective third party, like a mediator, who can bear witness to every exchange. (Anyone who has ever fought with an ex via text knows conflict does not occur only in person.)
Users offer rave reviews. When an app tells you it’s your turn to pick up your son from baseball, its voice won’t be dripping with years of pent-up resentment. When your phone pings you to contribute to the PTA fund, buy a teacher gift or pay for college application fees, you may feel less defensive than you would if that reminder was coming from your former spouse. On the positive side, if you see that your co-parent has paid the agreed-upon monthly electricity or mobile phone bills without your having to ask, it may restore good faith and alleviate some interpersonal tension.
These apps really can help improve human relationships. Here’s the lowdown on which ones to download.
The best overall app:
OurFamilyWizard One of the more popular co-parenting apps, this one stands out for its equally thoughtful emphasis on custody arrangements, logistics and expenses. It is frequently recommended by courts as the go-to system of record-keeping between couples who share custody. It also enables users to loop in third party professionals like therapists or mediators so there is a witness to each exchange. The customizable journal shows both parents the whereabouts and experiences of the children, allowing users to post up-to-the minute map locations, photos and notes about daily activities. You can post—for the eyes of your co-parent only—what your kids are eating, reading, watching or doing in real time. The Family Vitals section stores important info like social security numbers, insurance ID codes and clothing sizes, so each parent can access this essential info without having to ask the other.
For co-parents focused on finances:
SupportPay Media company Hearst recently made news when they announced a partnership with SupportPay, a platform which helps divorced couples manage the many financial payouts related to raising kids—from tuition to medical costs to extracurricular activity fees. It also seamlessly tracks spousal and child support. According to The Wall Street Journal, “It now costs $300,000 to raise a child.” With SupportPay, paying parents can clearly track how their money is being used. Parents receiving support do not need to make the case that raising kids is expensive; they can show receipts. Total transparency is the antidote to suspicion about the misuse of any funds. The app can even benefit one parent without the participation of the other, as it keeps an orderly accounting of every expense. “Keep a record of payments, communications, documents and more, all time-stamped and stored for future reference,” recommends SupportPay’s web site. These records will be helpful in any future mediation sessions as they provide third-party proof of your activities, needs and expenditures.
For parents with lots of lists:
WeParent In addition to calendar and photo sharing capabilities, this app offers a shared list of contacts so you can keep phone numbers and email addresses for everyone from the pediatrician to the aftercare coordinator to the nanny of the new playground friend in one mutually accessible list. It also houses a communication hub so you can text with your co-parent and caregivers through the app only—keeping a secure record of all of your communications—clearly separating personal texts from work texts. You can also open up the chat to approved stepparents and extended family members. The helpful List feature can be customized into categories beyond the traditional “to-do.” Create specific lists like “Lunchbox packing list” “School supplies” or “Vacation packing list.” This way, nothing will be left to chance, while the need for communication is kept at a minimum.
If custody is a concern:
Custody Connection For some co-parents with busy, unpredictable and ever-changing work schedules, the shared calendar is of utmost concern. This app stands out because it enables you to trade days at the push of a button. It automatically syncs your shared custody calendar and tracks percentages over the course of the year, so there’s zero debate or confusion about who got more or less time with the kids. Kids can also access the app so they are updated on changes to their plans or schedules in real time.
For international families:
2houses This app serves families in over 170 countries. For parents who live or travel internationally, it’s unparalleled in its efficiency. Its calendar differentiates between singular and recurring events. It syncs seamlessly with other calendar systems like outlook or iCal. It offers a pie chart and graphed financial report, broken down by child, so both parents can see the expense categories that cost the most. You can also turn this into a PDF and export it. As with Venmo, you can send payment requests to each other via the app. It even maintains a wish list so parents can see the gift items their kids are requesting. All exchanges between users are permanent and cannot be deleted.