With Christmas and New Year around the corner, it can be an especially difficult time for separated parents to agree on arrangements for children. Spending time with close and extended family can present a delicate balancing act for any family, but where parents are separated and living apart, reaching a compromise about who the children spend time with and when, can be a serious struggle. This is particularly the case where effective communication between parents is strained or has broken down completely.
During the busy festive period, co-parenting apps offer an efficient and relatively low-cost option for parents hoping to simplify and improve communications with their ex-partner about the children.
What is a co-parenting app?
There are a growing number of co-parenting apps on the market, such as OurFamilyWizard, Amicable, and 2House to name a few. Each has its own unique features. Generally speaking, however, co-parenting apps allow parents access to a shared calendar where all arrangements for the children are recorded, whether that’s where the children stay, schooling, activities, holidays or parental finances. Requests to change plans are made via the app (as opposed to over text/email/calls/in person) and these as well as the other parent’s responses are all recorded within the app.
Most apps have additional features designed to promote constructive and collaborative parenting. These include photo sharing, expense logs and information stores (e.g. for medical records, school records and emergency contacts). Some apps even have ‘tone’ monitors which seek to check that communications between parents are neutral and non-confrontational.
Co-parenting apps generally attract a monthly subscription fee, a cost which can be paid for by one parent or shared between parents. Where the cost is an issue, some parents use free calendar or messenger apps as an alternative, whilst some apps do offer discounts for families experiencing financial hardship.
Do they work?
Family lawyers and social workers (including CAFCASS, the Children and Family Court’s advisory body) are increasingly recommending co-parenting apps as an option for separated parents who could benefit from a more structured and child-focused channel of communication with each other. Anecdotally, the apps help parents set new (online) boundaries and limit the scope for miscommunication and conflict. This in turn makes it easier to agree on arrangements for children and other issues like parental expenses.
Understandably, many parents find it stressful or upsetting to receive messages out of the blue from their ex-partner, even where this about the children. Limiting contact to one designated app can mean parents feel more in control of the level and tone of such communication. From the child’s perspective, it is clearly beneficial for co-parenting communication to be contained so that they are not exposed to conflict or hostility, which can be emotionally harmful.
Clearly, co-parenting apps are not a panacea for every family. Where communication continues to be an issue, involving family solicitors who can legally advise you and correspond with the other parent (or their solicitor) can help reset the tone and encourage resolution.
Attending a Separated Parents Information Programme (SPIP) is also a helpful option. They are short courses offered by CAFCASS, aimed at exploring the emotional impact of separation on children and teaching separated parents effective communication and conflict-management skills. Parents do not attend the same course as their ex-partner.
More often than not we recommend that parents attend mediation to agree on a parenting plan with the help of a trained and impartial mediator. Where this is not appropriate or has already been tried, a court order or engagement in children arbitration is seen as the last resort. Although the spirit of co-parenting apps is not ‘evidence collection’, sometimes the information stored by the app can help cut through the competing narratives of parents in children proceedings.
Our family solicitors can advise you further on your options if you are concerned about arrangements for your children. If you would like to speak to a member of our family team, please call 020 3826 7550 or complete our web enquiry form.