By Lauren Baker With the best interests of the child as the primary consideration, co-parenting is not just a concept to be hoped for, it is a necessity. In light of separation and the many emotions that follow, it can be difficult to set aside those emotions to prioritise your child(ren)’s best interests and effectively co-parent. To assist in this process, there are numerous applications available to parents that allow them to co-parent effectively and communicate with each other appropriately. Not every situation will allow for effective co-parenting, such as where there is a pattern of domestic violence, protection orders are in place or where historically, communication between the parents has just been ineffective and counterproductive. However, such applications and programs can be tailored in their usage to suit parents needing an untraditional, indirect and safer way of communicating, for example, through the use of calendar and information bank functions, parents can indirectly share information with each other regarding the care arrangements and information about the children as opposed to the strict direct messenger based style of communication that most parents adopt. The following is a list of popular applications and their basic functions that may be used to assist in effective co-parenting: Our Children Australia Features A co-parenting calendar to allow parents to easily view schedules including events and appointments for the children and time spent with each parent. An ‘Email mailbox’ wherein parties can continue standard messenger-based communication. Costs tracker (such as school fees or child support paid etc) Information bank where parents can share information and photos of and about the children It is important for parents to note that communications, information, bank and financial matters remain permanently in the database and cannot be erased. This allows parents to maintain a full transcript of all communication. Cost Our Children Australia offers the following payment plans: $15 per month (per parent) $100 for six months (per parent) $150 per annum (per parent) Divvito Features Divvito is a messenger-based program. It allows parents to communicate with each other in one place with help from ‘Dani’, a virtual assistant. Upon registering, ‘Dani’ will ask you some questions to help establish your account including how things are going with the other parent, what is your support network like etc. ‘Dani’ will then provide you with a link that will allow you to invite the other parent to participate in the use of the application. Divvito advertises that you are able to connect to Dani without disclosing your telephone number. However, parents will need to use an email to create or log into an account, and Dani may prompt you to send text messages or emails while using the application, particularly where there is difficulty in connecting with the other party via the application. There are two levels of cover with Divvito including: Basic On the basic plan, ‘Dani’ assists with the following: Organising messages into conversations (such as ‘school expenses’ and ‘changeovers’) Archiving messages (messages will be stored permanently in chronological order) Inappropriate messages will be flagged, and the sender will be granted the opportunity to revise their message before it is finally sent. The application itself does not have a calendar, however, the application offers the ability to integrate times and dates communicated between the parents with the user’s virtual phone calendar. Enhanced In addition to the basic functions, ‘Dani’ will assist with the following: The ability to download and share messages. This allows the user to transfer all communication (from email or text etc) that the user has shared with the other parent so that it can be stored in the one place Unlimited document, photo and video uploads Extreme language will be blocked Speed dial to support network – this allows parents to reach out to their colleagues or family members quickly when in need of support. Cost Divvito offers the following plans: Basic Free Enhanced $96 per year (for both parents together) $399 for life (for both parents together) Our Family Wizard Features This application was created by a divorced couple in need of a better way to communicate and share information and contains the following features: Shared colour-coded calendar that parties can use to share visitation schedules as well as dates of other important events or appointments for the children. Secure messaging through ‘message board’. Our Family Wizard advertises that messages exchanged on this platform are secure in that once sent or received, they cannot be edited, deleted or retracted. In order to ensure that parents engage in respectful communication, the application has an in-built ‘ToneMeter’ that uses a communication algorithm that helps keep communication positive and productive. A journal. In this journal, parents can record observations, share memories and check in at different locations (for example to check in and confirm attendance at a changeover) Expenses log to keep track of shared expenses, any upcoming expenses and reimbursement history. This function also allows parents to upload receipts for the other parent to view. InfoBank. The Info Bank allows parents to store important family information such as the children’s medicinal needs and what immunisations they have had to-date. Cost Our Family Wizard offers a one year and two year plan. Each package contains 5GB of storage and the use of ToneMeter: 1 year: $154 2 years: $270 Our Family Wizard also advertises a 30-day trial for parents. 2Houses Features A co-parenting calendar to allow parents to easily view schedules including events and appointments for the children and time spent with each parent. A costs tracker to track expenses such as school fees, medical bills, clothing etc. This function allows parents to easily view financial reports generated by the application for specific categories or periods. Information and documents centre to exchange photos or videos of the children (so that neither parent misses out on certain day-to-day milestones) and information about the children including medical reminders such as what medicines the children are required to take on an ongoing basis, notes from any recent medical appointments and clothing and shoe sizes etc. Private messaging. It is important to note that messages can not be deleted so to ensure that each party maintains a full transcript of all communications. A journal. This function allows parents to easily share information, news, photos (additional to the information bank) and the children’s funny quotes. While 2houses is a secure platform, it has the ability to stay open. Parents can assign specific rights to their children and other parties such as family or professionals offering assistance. For example, this application allows third party access by any mediator, should the parents be required to attend Family Dispute Resolution. Cost 2Houses advertises a 14-day trial for parents. From there, 2Houses offers the following payment plans: $26.49 per month ($13.25 per parent) $159 per year (per family) $659 for life (per family) On an administrative basis, only one parent subscribes and pays. It would then be a matter for the parents to organise reimbursement for all or a percentage of the ongoing fees (if monthly or yearly subscription). The above applications are not an exhaustive list of the applications available to parents, however they are arguably the most popular in Australia with applications such as 2houses having an estimated 170,500 families utilising it across numerous countries. However, it is evident that the above applications require the commitment and dedication of both parents to enjoy the full benefits of each respective application. Accordingly, if used appropriately, such applications provide great assistance to parents in organising schedules, communicating with each other and complying with any agreements or orders that may be in place so to maintain a child-focused approach in co-parenting. If you are looking for a ‘whole package’ application, Our Family Wizard and 2Houses are comparable in that they each offer not only a communication platform, but also calendars, costs trackers and information sharing. In particular, the use of 2Houses has been endorsed in recent judgments by the Federal Circuit Court and Family Court of Australia. Alternatively, if you are looking for a cost-efficient communication only based platform, Divvito offers two levels of cover to suit a range of budgets, allowing parents to engage in organised and appropriate communication. It is a matter of individuality as to which of the above applications is most suited to you and your family however, it is important to note, that while children may enjoy feeling like they have a voice through the use of parenting applications wherein they are able to build their own profiles, it is vital that they are not exposed to adult issues or conflict and that their involvement remains age appropriate. For any further information or assistance in navigating separation and implementing parenting arrangements that are in the best interests of your child or children, please do not hesitate to contact DA Family Lawyers on telephone (07) 3238 5900 or via email to email@example.com.