Innovative solutions to family issues: Co-parenting tools

A number of websites and apps help separated parents share information about their children’s needs and plan anything from diaries to mealtimes. Many also have built-in recording of conversations and tools to help reduce conflict in the co-parenting space. As these are now sometimes court-ordered, practitioners are advised to have at least a basic knowledge of what the different options offer.

Since the inception of the Innovation Committee in 2018 we have had the privilege of being given a sneak peak of myriad technological solutions for family lawyers and their clients. In a series of regular articles in The Review we will be sharing some of those solutions with you.

Changes in technology have made it quicker and easier to communicate. It has also enabled us to easily have calls by video, as well as by telephone. Parents are able to communicate with their children better than ever before, when they are not in their care. Unfortunately, improved accessibility of communication has not necessarily meant that the quality of that communication has improved.

The methods that most of us use to communicate with our friends and family are generally fit for most purposes, although they are also open to abuse. In this day and age, conversations can be digitally manipulated at the click of a button. It can be hard to keep track of conversations. Parents can make comments in the heat of the moment which they cannot then take back. This all detracts from placing the child at the heart of the issue.

This first article will look at the different resources available to help separated parents communicate more effectively, and co-ordinate arrangements for their children. In particular we have considered the following digital resources:

  • Our Family Wizard
  • Cozi Family Organiser
  • 2houses
  • Talking Parents

And for those individuals who are unable or unwilling to access technological solutions we have also looked at The Handover Book.

(1) Our Family Wizard

OurFamilyWizard (OFW) is an American product. The website and mobile apps offer separated parents a collection of tools to easily organise their time with the children; share important family information; manage expenses and create an accurate, clear record of co-parenting communication; shield children from conflict; and allow children and other family members to stay informed of family plans without overseeing conversations between the parents. As well as being a tool for parents, OFW provides legal and mental health practitioners with access to oversee communication and generate accurate reports of client activity.

OFW has been working on its platform for nearly 20 years, and it has been court-ordered in a number of different jurisdictions, including in England and Wales.

Accessibility. OFW is accessed online. Parents need an OFW subscription and can access the platform via computer, tablet, or mobile phone. Practitioners need an OFW Practitioner account (which is free).

Features. OFW has five main features to communicate and share important family information:

  • a calendar to schedule and track parenting responsibility;
  • a journal with GPS check-ins to keep notes and an accurate record of each parent’s presence at important events;
  • an expense log to track parenting costs;
  • an information bank to store insurance details, medical information, shared files, and more;
  • a message board to create an accurate log of parent communication.

Practitioners can access client accounts and generate PDF reports of client activity and communication. Additionally, practitioners can help clients get started on OFW by creating new accounts for them.

OFW provides templates that help parents easily share key details in a fast and secure manner without constant messaging. There is a tool which lets a parent request a one-time change in child arrangements. If the other parent isn’t in full agreement, they can submit a counter-offer with their proposed dates. Approved requests adjust the parenting schedule accordingly. The Message Board documents all messages, from when they are sent to when they are first viewed by the other parent. There is also a tool called ToneMeter™ which flags up emotionally-charged phrases and lets the parent know how those phrases may be received. The parent will have a chance to edit their message prior to sending, encouraging amicable communication. All activity on OFW as well as parent sign-in histories can easily be generated by practitioners into customisable PDF reports. OFW secures user data with industry-standard SSL encryption to protect data transmissions. It offers live customer support seven days a week by email and phone.

Cost. Subscription costs £79.00 per year, per parent, with a 30-day money back guarantee. For low-income parents, they offer a financial hardship assistance programme to provide discounted or free subscriptions. Access for legal or mental health practitioners on OFW is always free. Exclusively for practitioners in the UK, OFW offers complimentary accounts for the first family that they refer to OFW

(2) Cozi Family Organizer

Another American product, Cozi is aimed at busy families with school-aged children. Cozi is not solely for separated parents. It helps families using it to keep track of everything from school schedules and sports activities to grocery lists, meals and chores. Everything is in one place which everyone can access anytime. It is available in an app and website that helps users manage the chaos of family life with a shared calendar, shopping lists, to do lists, recipe box and more.

Accessibility. It can be accessed on Apple and Android devices, and is also available on the web. You create an account with one shared family password and add family members. Once you have your family set up, you can add events, appointments and reminders to the shared family calendar. You can set and change reminders so the whole family can stay informed about changes made to plans. The shared calendar, shopping list, to do list, recipe box and meal-planning tool make staying organised and on top of daily life simple.

Features. The intention of Cozi is to give busy families one central location to keep track of all schedules, to do items, shopping lists and more. This allows families to spend less time focused on daily logistics.

Cozi prides itself on being easy to use. It allows you to set reminders for important meetings, events and activities; it helps with shopping and checking off to-dos. It helps plan dinner, and offers a journal where families can record special moments and save pictures. Whilst it is not made specifically for separated parents, it can certainly help those families where they struggle with scheduling contact and sharing details of arrangements.

Cost. Cozi is free. It also offers an optional ad-free premium subscription called “Cozi Gold” which gives the user additional features like Contacts, Birthday Tracker, mobile app themes, more reminders, mobile month view, change notifications and more. Cozi Gold has a 14-day free trial, and is then $29.99 per year.

(3) 2houses

This European app aims to help separated parents to communicate and organise their children’s well-being.

Accessibility. 2houses is available to download as an app or online. Only one parents pays the subscription and they can then give access to all family members and any third parties too. The expense of the app can be shared in the finance section.

Features. 2houses offers a shared and synchronised interactive calendar. There are specific features for separated parents who can, through their interface, set parental schedules and manage changes without any time clashes. One especially helpful feature is their parenting schedule wizard. This helps work out how different shared care arrangements would work in practice, be that alternate weeks, 2-2-3, 3-3-4-4 or whatever else works for that family. It can be fully customised. Weekends can be swapped and negotiated, recurring visits included, and the calendar can be synced with other calendars you may have on your laptop or phone.

The financial management system allows you to categorise different expenses, calculate how they should be shared, track expenditure and allows one parent to request funds or items from the other.

Conversations and messages can be exchanged through the app, and printed out, saved or shared with a third party, and they cannot be deleted. The app can also store important information about a child, be used to share photos, picture and videos, and to send you reminders about activities.

Cost. It costs £99 every 12 months, which works out at £8.25 per month.

(4) Talking Parents

Talking Parents, another American product, is aimed at “helping co-parents communicate effectively”. It is available online or from app stores for your mobile. Accounts are available for parents as well as professionals. The app seems to be primarily aimed at the US market, and there is a dedicated section of the website which sets out how it can assist professionals or be used in court proceedings.

It lists some of its key features as being: secure conversations; shared calendar; store and share files; unalterable records, and real time notifications.

Accessibility. It is available online and by mobile app

Features. Parents can easily create messages and provide attachments. It is in a format akin to text messages. As with a number of these programs, the app will tell users when the message was sent and when it was read. There is also a shared calendar.

You can generate PDF records of all communications through Talking Parents. This includes the details of every new calendar event, edit, view, and deletion.

Paying users get access to ‘The Vault’. This enables each parent to have a private, secure space for pictures, videos and other files. These will only get shared with the other parent if they chose to do so. There is also a personal journal for each parent to keep notes which are not shared and can be turned into a PDF.

There are notifications, either by email or through the app, when a message is received.

Cost. You can access a number of the features online for free, but the mobile app is only available with a monthly subscription. The majority of the features are available with the Standard package. This is $5.99 per month and also has a 30-day free trial. The Premium package is $19.99 per month. It gives users access to the facility to make calls on the phone which are recorded, and transcribed, although this is only available in the US and Canada at present. There is also a larger data storage facility.

(5) The Handover Book

Apps and technology are not for everyone. They also tend not to involve the children participating in the communication process. The Handover Book is a continuously updated co-parenting plan. It is designed specifically to encourage communication solely based on information about the child’s needs, routines and welfare.

The Handover Book is a colourful, child-friendly book which it is intended should be exchanged at handover to assist parents. The book is the brainchild of two qualified psychotherapists, child and family consultants, and family mediators. Parents will often have a session together with a mediator, consultant or therapist before starting to use the book.

Accessibility. Parents will often discuss with a professional how they will use the book, to ensure that it is used consistently, in a child-focused, constructive way.

Features. It helps everyone involved to know what is happening and when. The book sets out practical decisions about the children, covering a wide range of topics such as: contact arrangements; education; health care; food; bathroom & bedtime routine; screen time. There is also a dedicated section for children to share their experiences with both of their parents.

The Handover Book encourages children to have a voice and express their needs, and it encourages children to talk about their experiences in both homes. It acts as a valuable reference to go back to. The book is continuously updated as the child’s needs change. It will offer children the opportunity to see their parents working co-operatively together. The book should improve communication. It will take questions out of the handover and children will experience less conflict. It can support a successful mediation outcome, thus reducing the necessity to go through the family courts.

Cost. The book costs £20 plus postage and packaging.

Our thoughts

Having bespoke apps which help make arrangements, work out finances, or communicate, means that for some parents there is one less thing to worry about. Some of the products available are free or come at next to no cost. The others are arguably a price worth paying for the issues they alleviate. If the app saves one flurry of letters or calls between solicitors, then it will easily pay for itself. It will give many parents peace of mind to know that everything is in one place and is easily accessible. Knowing that there is a log of discussions may also mean that a parent may think a little more carefully before firing off a frustrated text message.

It is not uncommon in other jurisdictions for communications to take place between parents using one of these programs. This is now happening in England and Wales too. We would urge members to look at the different options available so that if this is suggested, or if a client asks about these tools, then you are not having to make an uninformed decision about the options available.

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