What to Look for in Online Co-Parenting Tools
When parents get divorced, they might not live together anymore, and they might not be a couple, but they will continue to be parents to their children for many years to come. Their parenting plan must address issues like where the children will live, when the other parent can see them, and how to make medical and educational decisions. If the parties to a divorce cannot reach an agreement on issues relating to the children, Missouri courts will make those decisions for them. Their agreement, or the court’s decision, will become part of their final judgment of divorce, and will have the force of law.
Disagreements are inevitable in co-parenting, but they do not have to be disastrous. Modern technology offers numerous tools to help parents work together. Co-parenting is about more than just amicably exchanging information. It requires keeping track of schedules and expenses, and making sure the children have access to both parents. Numerous online tools are available, both through the web and as smartphone apps, to help parents manage their co-parenting responsibilities.
What Are the Goals of Co-Parenting?
Divorce terminates a marriage, but the responsibilities of parenthood remain the same. Some exceptions may apply, such as when a court finds that it is in the children’s best interest to limit contact with one parent because of issues like domestic violence. For the purposes of this post, we will focus on co-parenting by two parents with roughly equal parental rights.
Put the Children First
Co-parenting is largely about trying to minimize the impact of the divorce on the children’s lives. Missouri requires all parenting plans and other orders affecting the children to be in their “best interests.”
Provide Stability and Consistency
In a “joint custody” situation under Missouri law, one parent might have the primary right to determine where the children live, while the other parent has regular visitation with them. Children may split their time roughly 50/50 between each parent, if such an arrangement is practical. Both parents would share in decision-making regarding education, healthcare, and other issues. The arrangement must, of course, be in the children’s best interests.
Set a Healthy Example
While parents should strive to minimize the negative impact of their divorce on the children, that does not mean they should keep their children in the dark about what is happening. Children notice how their parents behave, and this forms much of their understanding of how to function in the world. Co-parenting offers parents the opportunity to model healthy behaviors for their children, even in the face of difficult circumstances.
Take Care of Yourself
Divorce is traumatic for adults, too. Putting one’s children first should not mean neglecting one’s own needs, especially with regard to mental and physical health. Sharing the responsibilities of parenthood gives each parent a chance to tend to their own needs. Just as there is an obligation to care for a child’s needs, parents owe it to their children to care for themselves.
What to Avoid in Co-Parenting
Do Not Put the Children in the Middle
“Putting children first” sometimes means keeping negative information from them, as best as possible. Parents should never, for example:
- Use their children to send messages to the other parent; or
- Vent their frustrations about the other parent to their children.
Be Responsible for Your Own Emotions
Co-parenting after a divorce should be about the shared goals mentioned above. It should never be about anger or other negative emotions left over from the divorce.
It is unlikely that the two parents will ever fully resolve their differences after the divorce is complete. Continuing to take those emotions out on the other parent usually serves no purpose. It is far better for each parent to find a way to address their own anger, sadness, and hurt, as discussed in the section on self-care above.
What Should an Online Co-Parenting Tool Do?
With these goals in mind, what should a good online or digital co-parenting tool offer parents?
Parents need clear and open lines of communication for everything, from finding out if a parent is on their way to pick up the children, to discussing long-term plans affecting the children. Phone calls and text messages might work for many parents, but they can also lead to people feeling hassled, or even harassed.
Many co-parenting apps offer a secure means for parents to communicate with one another. Messages sent through these apps are only visible to people who have permission to access the family’s account.
Sharing Documents, Photos, Etc.
Parents need to be able to share important documents, such as medical and school records. Several co-parenting apps offer cloud storage associated with a family account. A parent can take a photograph of a document, and then upload it to the app so the other parent can access it. They can also share photos and videos from events like birthday parties and vacations.
Calendaring and Scheduling
In the days when everyone kept their calendars on paper, parents had to trust that the other parent would write down an appointment and remember to check their calendar that day. Shared online calendars allow one parent to add events, appointments, and visitation periods to a calendar, and to send notifications to the other parent.
Keeping Track of Visitation Time
A common dispute between co-parents involves a lack of access to the children, often because one parent allegedly denied visitation to the other parent. Some co-parenting apps allow parents to log visitation time, in order to create a record of how much time each parent has with the children.
Keeping Track of Expenses
Co-parenting involves sharing expenses for things like clothes, school supplies, tuition, and medical bills. Rather than keeping stacks of receipts, co-parenting apps often allow parents to log expenses, and perhaps even upload copies of the receipts. These apps can then show how much has been contributed, or is owed, by each parent.
In the event that a dispute arises between the parents, and one of them asks the court to make a ruling, data stored by a co-parenting app can provide evidence to prove or counter the parents’ allegations. This might include documents and photographs uploaded by the parents, calendar entries, and messages sent through the app.
What Online Co-Parenting Tool Should I Use?
Your specific circumstances will determine the best tool for you and your family. Keeping that in mind, here are our thoughts on a few apps and other tools you might consider:
Google Calendar, Outlook Calendar, Etc.
Not everybody needs a full suite of co-parenting software. Shared calendar systems like Google or Outlook offer a wide rage of features, often free of charge, that can help parents keep track of important dates.
This app was not created specifically for co-parenting, but it has served this purpose for many families. In addition to a shared calendar, it allows parents to share to-do lists, school projects, and other information. It also includes a “family journal” feature that allows parents to share milestones in the childrens’ lives with the other parent. It has a free and a premium version.
This service includes shared calendars, to-do lists, document storage, and a secure system for parents to communicate with one another. It is available for a free trial, followed by a monthly subscription for the family.
A calendar specifically designed with child custody in mind uses color-coding to provide a quick picture of visitation over a long period of time. It includes features like secure messaging, document storage, expense recording, and a directory for important phone numbers and email addresses. Parents can add the children to the account so they can send messages through the system. Children’s accounts have limited access, which only includes the features that would be beneficial to them. After a free trial, each parent must obtain a monthly subscription.
Our Family Wizard
This is one of the most comprehensive co-parenting apps available. It includes most of the features described in the other apps above, such as secure messaging, custody calendars, and document sharing. Preservation of communications for possible use as evidence is a specific feature offered by Our Family Wizard. It also includes a “ToneMeter,” which scans through message drafts, informs a user when it detects negative tone, and suggests alternative (i.e. nicer) phrasings. Membership is based on an annual fee, with children’s accounts available for free.
Mark A. Wortman is a family law attorney in Kansas City, Missouri who focuses his practice solely on family law matters like divorce and child custody. Please contact us online or at (816) 523-6100 today to schedule a confidential consultation with a knowledgeable legal advocate.